As anyone who’s been waiting on content for a day may have surmised, my interview that was scheduled for Thursday got pushed back. I just did it now, and it went well. I have a few things I need to do, but I anticipate the interview should be up sometime this afternoon or evening.
Any player/Any era: Jim Abbott
What he did: Abbott might be the best player without four full limbs ever to play in the majors. Others have accomplished this feat, including Pete Gray, the St. Louis Browns’ one-armed outfielder in 1945 and Bert Shepard, a one-legged POW who pitched 5.1 innings for the Washington Senators in August that year. Abbott’s interesting, though, for having a 10-season career in peacetime, going 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA for the California Angels in 1991 at his best and hurling a no-hitter two years later. I suspect if Abbott had played during World War II, when the talent-depleted majors welcomed those who couldn’t serve, the one-armed man would have fared ever greater.
Era he might have thrived in: In real life, Abbott parlayed college heroics at the University of Michigan and a gold medal turn for the US baseball team in the 1988 Summer Olympics into a 1989 debut at 21 for the Angels. This might suggest a Bob Feller-like entrance into the majors of the late 1930s, assuming teams of that era wouldn’t be scared off by Abbott’s stump right forearm. Given that the big leagues were pretty hard-up for pitching in those days, it might not be an issue. Regardless, Abbott’s services would be needed after Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Why: Admittedly, World War II wasn’t like World I for baseball, when the sport was ruled a non-essential industry and a number of stars saw combat, Grover Cleveland Alexander returning shell-shocked and former New York Giants captain Eddie Grant dying in France. All the same, a significant number of ballplayers served in the Second World War from Ted Williams to Joe DiMaggio to Hank Greenberg. Feller even completed a decorated tour of duty on a battleship in the South Pacific, running laps on-deck in between Japanese air attacks to stay in shape.
What remained in the majors was a motley sight, and teams did the best they could to remain competitive. The Cincinnati Reds started 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall in 1944, the St. Louis Cardinals held open tryouts with their farm system decimated, and Bill Veeck supposedly talked of buying the Philadelphia Phillies and filling the roster with Negro League stars before his plans were scuttled by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Approaching the 1945 World Series, Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown was asked if he thought the Cubs or the Detroit Tigers would win, to which he replied, “I don’t think either of them can.”
The stage would have been primed for someone like Abbott, whose arm would almost certainly have made him 4-F for draft registration status and exempt from military service (men with this classification as well as a cadre of aging stars like Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, and Carl Hubbell kept baseball going during World War II.) In a wartime majors that boasted plenty of starting pitchers with names virtually unrecognizable today, I’m guessing Abbott would have outshined the likes of Ted Wilks, Monk Dubiel, and Nels Potter. On a good club, Abbott would likely have more wins than he managed during his career, and regardless, I imagine he’d put up gaudier non-team-dependent statistics.
Would Abbott have a better legacy? I don’t know. Gray and Shepard seem to mostly exist in baseball history as oddities, men who made their mark in unusual circumstances. But strong stats trump all, and assuming Abbott had them, I doubt he’d just be some punchline.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies,Barry Bonds, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson,Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe,Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson,Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson,Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays
Koufax Throws 205 Pitches, Wins in 13 Innings
Almost exactly 50 years ago, Sandy Koufax pitched the last Dodgers game played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. On September 20, 1961 Koufax bested the Chicago Cubs, with its lineup that included three future Hall of Famers (Richie Ashburn, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks), 3-2. The three Cubs went a collective two for 15.
During the 13 inning game Koufax, who didn’t allow a hit after the eighth inning, struck out 15 batters. According to pioneer baseball statistician Alan Roth, Koufax, threw 205 pitches.
The pitch count debate has been covered exhaustively both here, on other baseball sites, and by experts far more knowledgeable than me. Still, every time I read examples like the Koufax game and compare it to today, I scratch my head.
The mystery is compounded if your favorite team is, like my Pittsburgh Pirates, pitching-challenged.
When the season began, the Pirates announced its five man starting rotation: Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Craig Morton, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald.
About a month ago, Maholm and Correia’s seasons ended. They went on the disabled list with arm ailments. Morton and Karstens avoided the DL but skipped starts to preserve their tired arms. Only McDonald has survived the year. In 29 starts, however, he averages a mere 5 plus innings per outing.
Ross Ohlendorf, who went on the DL in April with shoulder problems, was called up from the minors to fill in for Maholm. In three starts, his ERA is 8.03. The line from Ohlendorf’s last outing: 2 IP, 10 H, 6 ER.
Today’s pitcher has conditioning coaches, skilled trainers, better facilities, video breakdown of each pitch and dieticians to monitor their calorie intake. But, despite it all, too many pitchers can’t get out of the fifth inning. Sure there are exceptions like the Phillies Roy Halladay and the Yankees CC Sabathia. But the majority of them fall into the same underperforming category as the Pirates pitchers. They struggle to get to the elusive, six inning “quality start” level.
On Tuesday night, Karstens made his first start since August 27. One of his broadcast booth buddies asked Pirates pitching great and color commentator Steve Blass if he was ever worn out by September. Blass said he always looked forward to ending strong. To Blass, September represented a chance to “pick up two or three more wins.” As far as he could remember, Blass said, he “never had arm fatigue.”
Anatomy hasn’t changed since Koufax, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn and numerous other Hall of Fame pitchers routinely ranked up 300 innings a year. So what’s the explanation?
Beats me. I’ve posed a question without offering an answer or even suggesting a solution—unfair for a journalist to do. The easiest may be just to realize that baseball today is an altogether different game than it was decades ago—and, much less of one.
10 baseball people I’d like to interview
Roger Kahn: I’ve had good luck interviewing baseball writers for this site, with me getting to talk to Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer, and Josh Wilker among others. Kahn’s another big name, most known perhaps for The Boys of Summer, but interesting in other respects as well. Besides embarking on an ill-fated autobiography project with Pete Rose years ago and being present when former Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis said on national television that blacks lacked the capabilities to manage, Kahn wrote beautifully about the 1987 suicide of his son.
Michael Lewis: I met the “Moneyball” author once or twice when I was covering Triple-A baseball in 2004, and more recently, one of my friends was a nanny for his family. I asked my friend awhile back to put me in contact with Lewis, and I may ask again at some point.
Will Clark: My all-time favorite player.
Jim Bouton: After the latest update to Ball Four was released last year, I contemplated making a trip from Northern California to see Bouton speak near Los Angeles. My car died shortly thereafter so it’s probably good I abandoned my plans.
Murray Chass: Sure he’s the Lord Voldemort of the baseball blogosphere, his Web site an emphatic “Fuck you” to the rest of us, though that’s part of the reason I’m interested in talking to Chass and listening to what he has to say. I’d like to understand where the former New York Times baseball columnist comes from, if he’s operating from resentment and entitlement, or if something else is fueling his fires.
Bill James: If Chass is Voldemort, I suppose James is Aldus Dumbledore, a beloved figure of the baseball research world. While I admit I haven’t read James’ Abstracts, and I consider myself more of a historian than a researcher or sabrmetrician, I’d still love a chance to pick James’ brain. I’m waiting on my owl.
Sean Forman: Forman runs Baseball-Reference.com, and I wanted to get him to vote in my project last year on the 50 greatest players not in the Hall of Fame. Forman didn’t get to my email in time to take part, though he wrote back after, wishing me well in writing career.
Bob Uecker: Honestly, I don’t know if I’d rather interview Uecker or the character he played in the Major League films, announcer Harry Doyle, though I’m guessing it would be entertaining either way. And as I learned from talking to former San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald, broadcasters can be awesome interviews, able to talk at length and speak without the “umms” and “ahs” that plague us ordinary folk.
Rickey Henderson: Gotta love a player who might do his interview in the third person.
Roger Angell: Angell has provided beautiful baseball essays to The New Yorker for years, and at a week shy of his 91st birthday as of this writing, he’s the oldest man on this list. Still, he wouldn’t be the oldest person I’ve interviewed, and some of the 90-plus-year-olds I’ve talked to like Sacramento Solons owner Fred David and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Art Mahan have been awesome experiences.
All this being said, I have an interview scheduled for Thursday afternoon with someone not on this list. He’s a well-known baseball name in his own right and has been a supporter of this site. The interview should also be somewhat timely. Stay tuned….
Baseball as a Necessary Distraction
We, as human beings, are always trying, at least subconsciously, to avoid thinking about the end of our days. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a grim and terrible reminder of just how fragile and fleeting our existence here on earth really is. More times than not, it’s simply a matter of good luck or bad and any second could be our last. That’s why we all need distractions. If we thought about our collective fates, suicide might become a viable option. We all need something to hang onto.
For many of us, sports, and more specifically baseball, is that distraction. How else could one explain our passion? It is, after all, only a game which makes a lucky few millionaires and set for life. Sure we all complain about salaries and rightly proclaim that no one is worth that much money. We often complain about ticket prices, concession prices and paying $12 for parking. But we still go to the games.
We often live and die with our team and if they win it all, we feel as if we have won something as well. When our team plays poorly we vow to stay at home instead and watch something else, anything else. But we still go to the games and each spring brings new hope however ridiculous.
We argue over statistics and which player is better and many of us read the disgusting details of the sport’s cheaters. We argue over who should or should not be in the Hall of Fame and who should be the MVP and CY Young winners each season.
The season seems to zip by and the offseason seems to last forever. Then suddenly that first pitch of spring training has arrived life begins to make sense once again. There is nothing to compare to opening day and the World Series is often more like the world serious.
Each of us remember where we were on that terrible day ten years ago and even for those of us who did not lose a loved one or a dear friend, the terror we felt changed our lives forever. The horrors of parts of the world beyond our borders knocked loudly and suddenly on our door, a door which before we could leave unlocked and still feel safe in our beds at night. Life seemed to stop and nothing made any sense. Nowhere felt safe.
Even baseball stopped. It had to. We couldn’t at that moment live with our distraction. Baseball seemed pointless and useless and it seemed disrespectful to care about a game when so many had lost their lives. Discussing who was better or how we had lost a game had lost all meaning. It seemed more trivial than at any other time in our lives.
I thought back to what our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers might have been thinking during the Second World War when death could come at any moment and often did. Yet the president at the time insisted that baseball continue. He realized that people needed something to cheer about, something to distract them. They needed something else to think about and talk about.
But baseball did come back after a brief respite. It didn’t seem as important as it once had but it gave us all something to hold onto, something which gradually let us believe that despite the 9/11 attacks, those responsible couldn’t take away our way of life and our feeling of well being. Life would indeed continue even with the changes we were forced to make. The sun would come up the next day and the enormous sacrifices made by those who perished that day would never be forgotten. We just wouldn’t think about them each and every day. But we wouldn’t forget them either amidst our distractions and passions. They were and are, after all, part of who we are.
Double The Fun: Herb Score Wraps Up His Outstanding Rookie of the Year Season
By the time Herb Score took the mound on September 24, 1955 to face the Tigers in the night cap of a doubleheader in Detroit, the Cleveland Indians season was over. The defending American League champions finished second, 3 games behind the hated New York Yankees. But Rookie of the Year Score, who along with the Yankees “Bullet” Bob Turley was one of the eras great power pitchers, dominated the Tigers. That afternoon, Score notched his 16th victory with a masterful 8-2 victory. Score’s pitching line: 9 IP, 7H, 0 ER, 2 BB and 9Ks. The Indians swept the doubleheader by taking the night cap, 7-0 Score finished his year with a 16-10 record, a 2.85 ERA and 245 strike outs. The following year Score was even better: 20-9, 2.53 with 263 strike outs. To the delight of manager and former catcher Al Lopez, Score reduced his walks from 154 to 129 and his hits per nine-inning ratio to 5.85.
When Score was at the peak of his too brief career, Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey offered the Indians $1 million cash for the fire balling lefty. At the time, that was an unheard of sum to be paid to a baseball player—or for that matter, anyone else. The Indians turned Yawkey down cold.
After Score’s sensational 1955 season his career took a bad turn. In an infamous incident, a line drive off the Yankees’ Gil McDougald’s bat struck Score’s eye. Then during Score’s comeback effort, he injured his arm. During the next five seasons with the Indians and the Chicago White Sox, Score won only 19 games.
In an interview years after he retired, Score said:
The last couple of years I pitched, I was terrible. I just couldn’t put it all together anymore. I went back to the minor leagues for a while and tried it there. Some people asked me why I went back to the minor leagues; they felt I was humiliating myself. But I never felt humiliated. There was no disgrace in what I was doing. The disgrace would have been in not trying.
After retiring Score became an Indians’ broadcaster and announced Cleveland’s radio and television games for nearly 30 years. In 1998, while driving to Florida after being inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Score was severely injured in a head on collision with a tractor trailer and spent more than a month in intensive care. But Score recovered in time to throw out the Indians’ Opening Day pitch in 1999.
In 2008 Score, after a long illness, died at his home in Rocky River, Ohio.This Sports Illustrated cover is how I remember him.
“Double the fun” is a Friday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader in baseball history each week.
Any player/Any era: Will Clark
What he did: Anyone who reads this site regularly may know that Will the Thrill is my all-time favorite player. I grew up in Sacramento, and Clark was it for my San Francisco Giants when I was about six. Clark’s star began to fade a few years later, and the sweet-swinging first baseman left San Francisco following the 1993 season, but I still get nostalgic thinking of him. I think of one of the best hitters of the late 1980s and early ’90s, likened to Roy Hobbs when he came up. I think of a fierce competitor who wore the black under his eyes like war paint. Detractors have dubbed Clark a “cackling douche” and racist, though I think I could have done worse in the hero department. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s an eventual Veterans Committee selection to the Hall of Fame, though in an earlier era, this might have come sooner.
Era he might have thrived in: Clark was a career .303 hitter playing from 1986 to 2000. Had he played in the 1930s, a Golden Age for first basemen in the American League, I suspect Clark might have hit .325 lifetime and earned his spot in Cooperstown decades ago.
Why: Hall of Fame and other awards selection has become a sophisticated art in baseball in recent years with the evolution of sabrmetrics. In the early days of Cooperstown, though, it was all about simple statistics and positive image. Clark would have offered this in abundance in the 1930s. If he wouldn’t have been a writers pick for the Hall of Fame, that would only have been because the ballot was glutted with future honorees in the early years after Cooperstown opened in 1939. Even Hank Greenberg needed nine tries with voters to earn his plaque.
Having his career peak in the greatest time for hitters in baseball history, there’s no telling what Clark might have done. Seeing as he inspired comparisons to Ted Williams as a young player for that left-handed swing, I’d be curious to see if he could hit .400 in a season. In real life, Clark peaked at .333 in 1989 when he and Kevin Mitchell led the Giants to the World Series. Running those stats through the Baseball-Reference converter for the 1936 Boston Red Sox, Clark would hit .400 batting average with 29 home runs, 165 RBI, and an OPS of 1.136. Throw in a few more years even close to that, and there’s no way Clark would miss Cooperstown. At worst, he’d be Chuck Klein who had astonishing numbers in the Baker Bowl of the ’20s and ’30s and hit maybe .270 elsewhere, needing until 1980 for the Veterans Committee to sort it out.
It’s worth noting, too, that the things that may have diminished Clark’s star in his day would be non-factors in an earlier era. There’d be no Deadspin for the Jeff Pearlmans of sports media to unload. And Clark’s racial views, while perhaps unenlightened, wouldn’t raise any eyebrows in the 1930s, particularly for him being a Louisiana native. All this and more suggests Clark may have been a man born about 60 years too late.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies,Barry Bonds, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson,Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe,Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson,Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson,Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker,Willie Mays
Steve Blass, the Laudromat and the Golf Course
Around Pittsburgh, Steve Blass is beloved. Blass pitched two complete games for the Pirates in the 1971 World Series win over the Baltimore Orioles. His second win shut the O’s down in thefinal seventh game, 2-1.
The Pirates signed Blass in 1960 straight out of his Connecticut high school. Blass was a Cleveland Indians fan, Herb Score his hero. But when the Pirates offered more money than the Indians, Blass didn’t hesitate. Blass has worked for the Pirates—and the Pirates alone—ever since. Only Tommy Lasorda has worked longer consecutively for a single team; Lasorda is now in his sixth decade with the Dodgers.
Blass does the color broadcasts at Pirates’ home games and does spot appearances promoting the Pirates on the local television channel. And it was during one of those spots that Blass told my favorite baseball off the field story.
After the Pirates signed Blass, he was sent to Kingsport, Tennessee in the Class D Appalachian League. Blass had never been away from home before and experienced all the readjustment problems young rookies do.
By the end of his first week, Blass was out of clean clothes. So he went to the laundromat where he found himself somewhat confused as to the proper procedure. The first thing Blass did in preparation was to inventory his dirty clothes: five t-shirts, five pairs of drawers and five pairs of socks.
Blass figured that 15 items would require 15 individual boxes of soap. So he loaded his laundry into the washer, added the soap (all 15 boxes) and put his quarter in. In virtually no time, as Blass recalled, the entire laundromat filled with bubbles and he was beating a hasty retreat before any of the other patrons could link him to the incident. From then on, Blass sent his laundry home each week where Steve’s mother dutifully washed and folded his clothes before sending them back to Tennessee.
As much as Steve enjoys telling his laudromat story, he has another that he likes even more—and it’s not even indirectly related to baseball.
In 2009, Steve recorded two holes in one during a single round of golf. According to his broadcast booth buddies Bob Walk, Greg Brown and Tim Navarrette, everyone Steve knows learned about his incredible feat within minutes after the second ball fell into the hole.
I hope the confusion is all mine
When it comes to female film stars of the 1970s, I have never been able to keep Karen Allen and Karen Black straight. I know that they don’t look especially alike, and they are more than ten years apart in age, but their shared first name has established a mental block for me, and I can never remember which is which. I could tell you now, but only because I just did the Google search. My clarity, however, is certain to be short-lived. Ten minutes after I log off, I might be able to tell you that one appeared in Animal House and Raiders of the Lost Ark and the other in Five Easy Pieces and The Great Gatsby, but I won’t be able to recall which Karen is which.
It’s similar with some ball players. If you mention any of the many hundreds of major leaguers who played from the late 1960s to the early ’80s, there’s a fair chance that an image of the player would come immediately to my mind, thanks to my card collecting and general obsession with baseball in those days. I might even be able to produce a few bare facts, such as position, team and whether the player was a righty or lefty. Naturally, there are some players I simply don’t remember at all, but much worse, there are certain pairs of players around whom my memory has become irretrievably tangled. Maybe they were teammates, or have similar names, or played similar roles. Or maybe they have nothing that connects them other than my confusion. And as with Allen and Black, it doesn’t matter how often I look them up in baseball-reference. Ten minutes later I can no longer tell them apart.
Welcome to the mental shortcomings that are my world. Here are some players that I just can’t seem to keep straight. I hope that the readers of this blog do not share my fate.
Vic Davalillo and Jose Cardenal: Both were good-hitting outfielders. The two were teammates twice, first in Cleveland and later in St. Louis. Just don’t ask me which one was traded for Jimmie Hall and which for Vada Pinson, because I could only guess.
Jim Spencer and Don Mincher: Both were lumbering first basemen cut from the Boog Powell mold. Several years different in age, they were teammates briefly, one succeeding the other for the California Angels. My confusion of these two is further fueled by the fact that both later played for the Oakland A’s, although not at the same time.
Jim Price and Jim French: Both were backup catchers in the late 60s. One played very little because, as a teammate of Bill Freehan, he stood little chance of cracking Detroit’s starting lineup. The other played somewhat more often, not because he was any better, but because the Washington Senators lacked an All-Star backstop. One was a Triple Crown contender, sort of. The racehorse of the same name was one of the chief rivals of Canonero II in 1971.
Von Joshua and Von Hayes: They share an uncommon first name, and each also has something in common with Greg Gross, which is apparently enough to confuse me. One was a teammate of Gross on the Phillies, while the other was the Dodgers’ equivalent of Greg Gross, a utility outfielder and pinch hitter. But which Von is which – it’s a 50-50 proposition in my mind.
Greg Goossen and Mike Cubbage: This one makes perhaps the least sense. Their names don’t sound alike. If you squint, the last names look a bit similar, but then lots of things look alike through squinting eyes. You would have to squint really hard to see any similarity in their playing careers. One was an infielder for the Rangers and Twins in the 70s, the other a catcher and first baseman for the Mets in the 60s and the target of a famous Casey Stengel quip. Earlier this year, when I saw Goossen’s name on the obituary page, I had to pause and think hard: New York catcher or Minnesota third baseman?
Jack Hamilton and Jack Fisher: Along with Steve Hamilton and Eddie Fisher, these two are half of what could be a foursome of 1960s pitching confusion, but somehow the other two are crystal clear in my mind. Steve Hamilton was the lanky ex-basketballer who threw the famed “folly floater” for the Yankees. Eddie Fisher was the mid-60s closer for the Chicago White Sox when closing meant taking the ball in the middle innings and going the distance. Given the possibilities, I feel pretty good that it’s only the two members of this quartet named Jack that I find confusing. Both pitched for multiple teams, including the Mets, and one had the distinction of being a 24-game loser for New York. But ask me which one was on the mound for the Angels and delivered the pitch that all but ended Tony Conigliaro’s career, and mentally I’m tossing a coin.
Joe Pignatano and Jim Pagliaroni: Both were catchers, although by the time I became baseball-conscious in the mid-60s, one had moved on to coaching, where he remained for more than two decades. I do not recall having had any confusion over these two when I was a youngster. It was only later, with the emergence of Mike Pagliarulo, that they became hopelessly twisted in my mind.
The Babe and I
Apart from the all too rare video clips of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, I never had the opportunity to see the greatest of them all play. What a sight that must have been watching the man who looked like a company three pitch softball player dominate his era both on the mound early in his career and later in the batters box, doing things no one else could match and no one else had ever done.
I interviewed many players during my two seasons covering Triple-A baseball and one beautiful summer evening when the home team were losing badly and the game was still in the early stages we began discussing what it must have been like to interview the Babe. What would it be like to visit him in that diamond in the sky and get his thoughts on
baseball in the 21st century?
Babe, you’re looking good these days.
Babe: Well there’s not much to do here you know. The old timers and me play everyday but no doubleheaders. That’s one reason they call it baseball heaven. Those twin bills on hot days were tough and I didn’t get paid anymore for playing both ends ya know. We only get wine to drink and the women don’t seem as much fun as down there.
Doubleheaders are pretty much a thing of the past nowadays.
Babe: That’s good. Guys these days have it so easy compared to them days. They’re all makin’ more money than the President and they get that free month in Florida or Arizona in March. Everyone gets a raise every year and half of ’em miss games with hang nails!
Well it’s a much more demanding game today with all the travel and night games all the relief specialists. The press is always scrutinizing every pitch and television sets the 162-game schedule and the playoffs get longer every year it seems.
Babe: They have way too many teams. Too many games too. Where do they find time to play golf? Half of those guys wouldn’t even be in the bigs in my day. Too many playoffs too. In my day you had to finish first or you didn’t make that World Series dough. We needed that extra money you know, not like today. I tried watching a game the other day but it didn’t start until 4 PM and it lasted pretty near four hours with all those commercials. What is all that junk they try and sell you anyway? I already know that beer is good for you and I own a car. And the broads like ’em both so what else do you need?
What are your thoughts on the steroid era and performance enhancing drugs in general?
Babe: I didn’t need that stuff. Gimme a few beers, some champagne and as many hot dogs as I could buy during the game and I was ready to play. I mean, I needed that stuff cause I didn’t get to sleep ’til what the boss used to call the wee hours. Ping Bodie said he didn’t room with me, he roomed with my suitcase. Management was always yakking at me for something, either getting in shape or getting my rest or chasing too many women or drinking too much. Hey, I had to do somethin’ between games.
Do you think the home run stats of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez et al should count?
Babe: I don’t know about that et al guy but the only two fellas I’ve seen near good as me would be Aaron and Mays. I played against that Josh Gibson fella a couple of times too and he was might good I’ll tell ya. I play against them up here and they’re still pretty good. That Satchel Paige guy I can’t seem to hit at all. He throws that funny stuff. You know, I hit 715 and that a’int bad. That seemed like plenty at the time. I can’t speak for those fellas you mentioned.
If you were the commissioner of baseball today what changes or improvements would you make?
Babe: I’d treat the ex players a lot better. A lot of us were broke when we left the game and a lot of us weren’t offered nuthin’ when we left. I wanted to manage but they said I didn’t have enough experience. Heck, I played enough years, what more experience did I need? There wasn’t nuthin’ for me after baseball. What was I gonna do? Become a bank teller? I didn’t have no education and baseball was all I knew how to do. I built Yankee Stadium at least that’s what they said. That weren’t nuthin! I wouldn’t pay those rookies all that money either. Let them earn it. They gotta learn their place. And stop trying to make baseball like every other sport. It’s different, that’s what makes it still the greatest game there is.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Babe: Well, I’d like to but the guys are hollerin’ for me to come play ball so I better go. Tell that Selig guy to stop messin’ around with the game. Tell my fans I miss ’em.
With that the Babe left me sitting and wondering what it must have been like to see him play. I sure wish I knew.