By Glen Sparks
Babe Ruth, dead at age 53, lay in state at Yankee Stadium, the house he built.
Fans, former teammates, dignitaries and assorted drinking buddies paid their respects to America’s greatest and grandest athlete on Aug. 17-18, 1948. About 77,000 people filed by.
The site of a forever-still Ruth probably struck many of them odd. Did the Babe ever stay still in life? One of his New York Yankee teammates, Ping Bodie, said, “I didn’t room with Babe Ruth. I roomed with his suitcase.” (This quote is attributed to most of Ruth’s roommates over the years.)
Fans knew him as the Babe, the Big Bam, the Wizard of Wham, the Colossus of Clout, the Prince of Pounders, the Rajah of Rap, the Maharajah of Mash and more. A player as great as Ruth needed many nicknames.
He did things big. “I swing big,” he said. “I like to live as big as I can.” He made headlines. “Babe Hits 60th Home Run of Season.” “Sultan of Swat Slams No. 714.” He did the improbable. In 1920, the Bambino blasted 54 home runs, more than any one team in the American League that year. He did the controversial. “He called a shot in the World Series!” some insisted… “No, he didn’t!” many cried.
Ruth suffered in 1925 from a bellyache “heard round the world.” Or, did he battle something more sinister? (“Syphilis,” some whispered.) He ate, drank, and wanted nothing more than to be merry. He punctuated the Roaring ‘20s, the Jazz Age.
Born in Baltimore, Ruth grew up rough and tumble. He learned baseball at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. The Boston Red Sox signed him as a burly left-handed pitcher in 1914. Ruth compiled a 94-46 won-loss mark but complained that he wanted to play every day. Boston sold Ruth’s contract to the Yankees in December 1919. An excellent pitcher was on his way to being a legendary hitter.
The Babe pitched in just five games as a Yankee. He led the American League in home runs 10 times. (Ruth also topped the circuit in homers twice while doing double duty with the Red Sox.) He hit 59 in 1921 for New York and outdid that by smashing 60 in 1927. He slugged his 714th homer on May 25, 1935, as a member of the Boston Braves. He also hit two other homers that day. Ruth smacked 15 World Series homers. Dizzy Dean said, “No one hits home runs the way Babe Ruth did. They were something special.” Ruth said of himself, “If I’d just tried for them dinky singles, I’d have hit .600.” Maybe.
He made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948. Now gaunt, he needed a cane to walk. He spoke to the crowd of 58,339 in a low, gravely voice and thanked all the fans for their applause through the years. The photograph that Nat Fein took of Ruth from behind won a Pulitzer Prize.
Cancer did in the Babe. The day before he died on Aug. 16, Ruth said to the great Philadelphia A’s manager Connie Mack, “the termites have got me.”
Family and friends filled St Patrick’s Cathedral for Ruth’s funeral mass on Aug. 19. It was hot that day in New York City. One former Yankee supposedly turned to Ruth’s old teammate Waite Hoyt. “I could sure use a beer,” the ex-ballplayer said. Hoyt replied, “So could the Babe.”
The funeral procession left St. Patrick’s Cathedral and headed north to the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., in Westchester County. About 6,000 people met the Babe’s casket.
Ruth’s second wife, Claire, who died in 1976, is buried next to her former husband (His first wife, Helen, died in a fire in 1929.) The grave site is marked by a tall, sandblasted image of Christ with his arm on a young boy. The Ruths share space at Gate of Heaven with, among others, actor Jimmy Cagney, manager Billy Martin, writer Herman Melville, and mobster Dutch Schultz.
Thousands of fans visit the Ruth site every year, according to an article written by Spencer Fordin for mlb.com. (Ruth’s former teammate and co-slugger Lou Gehrig is buried next door at Kensico Cemetery.) Some arrive by tour bus. In death, as in life, Babe Ruth remains an attraction. No one, not Cagney, not Martin, not Schultz, not Melville– the author of Moby Dick–gets as much attention as Ruth.
Some fans drop off a bat, a baseball or a ribbon from a youth baseball tournament, Fordin writes. Others bring a hot dog or a pizza. How many people left a beer?
Andrew Nagle, an employee of the cemetery, operated by the New York Archidiocese, confirms that the Babe tops ‘em all.“ No graves are visited like Babe Ruth’s grave,” he says.
George Herman Ruth Jr., the kid from the Baltimore waterfront, the “incorrigible” youngster dropped off at St. Mary’s by weary parents, the one-time great pitcher, the long-time preeminent hitter, remains the stuff of legend, of tales fit for the ages.
By Glen Sparks
Pete Reiser crashed more times than a dusty Chevy at a Carolina smash-up derby. The outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers chased flyballs all the way to the wall. Then, he kept going. Usually, he led with his head.
Not for no reason did Reiser max out at 137 games in one season (1941). He only played in more than 100 games four times. Accident prone? Reiser made Mr. Magoo look like a safety expert. What might have been …
Born March 17, 1919, in St. Louis, Harold Patrick (for St. Patrick’s Day) Reiser grew up with a bat in his hand. George Reiser tossed pitches to his young son, who crunched line drives at the local sandlot in between his frequent outbursts. “What kind of kid was I?” Reiser said to author Donald Honig in the superb book Baseball When the Grass Was Real. “Ornery. Mean. Nice. I was a nice mean kid. I had a bad temper.” (Neighbors took to calling young Reiser “Pistol Pete” after the popular movie cowboy Two-Gun Pete. The boy prowled his neighborhood block with a pair of toy six-shooters. Later, family and friends started just calling him “Pete.”)
Reiser played sports at Beaumont High School on the city’s north side. He dreamed of getting a football scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, just like every other Catholic kid dreamed. “When I was ten, I was competing in football against fifteen-year-olds,” Reiser told Honig.
The Fighting Irish never called. The hometown Cardinals did, however, in 1937. The Redbirds signed him for $50 a month and sent him to play shortstop for New Iberia, La., of the Evangeline League.
The following season, baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis broke up the Cardinals’ prolific farm system. The Redbirds were tying up too many players at minor-league parks across the country. Reiser ended up with the Dodgers.
Brooklyn’s player-manager Leo Durocher liked the lean, athletic new kid. Once, during spring training in 1939, Reiser batted 11 times over three games. The switch-hitter belted four homers, knocked four singles, and walked three times. What was not to like? “I just kept staring at him, wondering if it was all a dream,” Durocher wrote in his memoir, Nice Guys Finish Last. “‘Holy cats,’ I’m thinking, ‘This is a diamond, Leo. All you have to do is polish him.”
Reiser debuted with the Dodgers mid-way through the 1940 campaign as both a third baseman and outfielder. In 225 at-bats, he hit an admirable .293 and added three home runs and 20 RBI. The following year, now as Brooklyn’s starting centerfielder, he led the National League with a .343 batting average. Reiser hit 14 homers and had 76 RBIs.
He also topped everyone else in runs scored (117), doubles (39), triples (17), slugging percentage (.558), OPS (.964), OPS+ (164) and total bases (299). Reiser, just 22 years old, finished second in the MVP race to his teammate Dolph Camilli. He looked like a superstar-in-the-making.
Nothing really changed until the 11th inning of a game in 1942 against the Cardinals. Reiser was batting .356 at the time. But on July 18, Enos Slaughter lined a shot to centerfield at Sportsman’s Park. Pistol Pete went back, kept going, and, finally and abruptly, sprinted into an unforgiving wall.
Reiser caught the drive, held onto it for a second, and most likely never watched as the ball popped out of his glove. Slaughter rounded the bases. Reiser suffered a concussion and fractured his skull. He left Sportsman’s Park on a stretcher. The Cardinals’ team doctor, Robert Hyland, told Reiser to sit out the rest of the season. When Brooklyn GM Larry MacPhail heard about that, Reiser said, “He went through the roof. He began screaming that Hyland was saying that just to keep me out of the lineup.”
Amazingly, Reiser returned to action just one week later. He only hit .244 for the rest of the season, though. He still batted .310 on the year and led the N.L. with 20 steals. He also finished sixth in the N.L. MVP race. Then came World War II. Reiser wanted to join the Navy, but he failed the physical. Uncle Sam declared him 4-F. In time, the Army let the eager—but reckless—recruit enlist. Reiser spent most of his service time as an outfielder on the Fort Riley, Kansas, baseball team. He went all-out there, too. Once, he fell down a drainage ditch while in pursuit of a flyball and separated his shoulder.
Years later, Reiser told Honig about the time a young Black lieutenant walked up to a senior officer at Fort Riley and asked to play on the camp baseball team. The man looked at Jackie Robinson and directed him to try out for the “colored team.” Reiser said, “That was a joke. There was no colored team.” Robinson stood in place for a few minutes, watched as Reiser and some players worked out, and then left. “That was the first time I saw Jackie Robinson,” Reiser said. “I can still remember him walking away by himself.”
Reiser reported back to the Dodgers for spring training in 1946. Management knew something was wrong. The former all-everything ballplayer couldn’t throw, no doubt due to the lingering effects from that shoulder injury.
He suffered through muscle pulls and strains and crashed into an outfield wall again, this time while sprinting after a drive hit by the Chicago Cubs’ Whitey Kurowski. His season mercifully—and ignobly—ended when he broke his leg trying to steal a base. Miraculously, he played in enough games to make the All-Star team for a third and final time. He also led the N.L. in stolen bases with 34 and swiped home seven times.
The truth was apparent, though. Reiser would never be a Hall of Famer. Brooklyn traded him to the Boston Braves after the 1948 campaign, and he later spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians. He only played in 245 games during his four seasons away from Brooklyn and batted .248 with 14 homers. He hung up his spikes at the age of 32.
Reiser later coached for the Dodgers, Cubs, and other teams. A long-time smoker, he died of respiratory illness on Oct. 25, 1981, at the age of 62. Obits included quotes from the game’s experts. They said baseball had just lost a man who should have been one of the game’s all-time greats. Lawrence Ritter and Honig included Reiser in their 1981 book, The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All-Time.
He never fulfilled the promise of those early days when he was young and brazen enough to dive into concrete. Reiser supposedly left the field on a stretcher 11 times. He suffered four or five skull fractures and a couple of broken ankles. Pitchers beaned him at least twice for goodness’ sake.
The Pete Reiser story is sad, yes, but also exciting. Pistol Pete provided fans with thrills and suspense. He mixed joy with a young man’s contempt for mortality. He played much of his career while black-and-blue and rarely complained. “It was my style,” he told Honig. “I didn’t know any other way to play ball.” He added, “Hell, any ballplayer worth his salt has run into a way. More than once. I’m the guy who got hurt doing it, that’s all.” We can both smile and grimace.
By Glen Sparks
(The recent death of retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant made me think about Roberto Clemente, the great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, who perished in an airplane crash on December 31, 1972, while on a mercy mission. Bryant and eight others died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 outside Los Angeles.)
A massive earthquake struck at about 12:29 a.m. local time, Dec. 23, 1972, near Managua, Nicaragua. The temblor measured 6.2 on the Richter scale. Within one hour, strong aftershocks of 5.0 and 5.2 struck the area.
Roberto Clemente of Carolina, Puerto Rico, grew up in a family of limited means. As a boy, he worked in the fields alongside his dad, cutting down sugar cane and loading it onto pick-up trucks. On off days, he played softball and baseball. Not surprisingly, he liked to show off his strong arm.
Al Campanis, a Brooklyn Dodgers scout, first saw Clemente during a tryout camp in 1952. Campanis rated Clemente’s arm strength as A+, gave his fielding an A and his hitting also an A (“turns head but improving”). He had “+” running speed, according to the report. Campanis wrote that the 18-year-old “has all the tools and likes to play. A real good-looking prospect.”
Clemente was still in high school, though. Campanis waited to sign his superstar-to-be. The Dodgers finally inked Clemente on Feb. 19, 1954, supposedly for a $5,000 salary and a $10,000 bonus. That made the prospect a “bonus baby.”
According to the rules, the Dodgers had to keep Clemente on the team’s major league roster or risk losing him during an offseason draft. Brooklyn assigned him to the minor league Montreal Royals and hoped for the best. The Pittsburgh Pirates swept in and drafted Clemente in November of ’54. “Thus, we lost Roberto,” Dodgers executive Buzzie Bavasi said many years later.
The Nicaragua earthquake killed approximately 6,000 people and injured another 20,000. More than 250,000 people were left homeless. Many buildings were damaged or destroyed, including most of the area hospitals. Several fires, fueled by dry-season winds, broke out. Police and soldiers patrolled against looting.
Clemente made his major league debut on April 17, 1955. He struggled to hit for power in his early years and did not reach double figures in home runs for a single season until 1960. That year, he also made his first All-Star team. He ended up playing in 15.
The right-handed batter topped the National League in hitting for the first time in 1961 (.351). He retired with four batting crowns and hit a career-high .357 in 1967. His run of 12 straight Gold Glove seasons also began in 1961. Fans, teammates, opposing players–everyone, really–marveled at his superhuman throwing arm from right field. Broadcaster Vin Scully once said, “He (Clemente) could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.”
Clemente won the N.L. MVP in 1966. He finished in the top 10 in voting eight times and collected at least 200 hits in a season three times. On Sept. 30, 1972, Clemente smacked a double against Jon Matlack of the New York Mets. It was his 3,000th career hit. And his final one during a regular-season game. Richie Ashburn, the Hall of Fame outfielder turned broadcaster, had asked Clemente a few months earlier when he might get his landmark hit. “Well, uh, you never know,” he responded. “I, I, uh, if I’m alive, like I said before, you never know because God tells you how long you’re going to be here. So you never know what can happen.” Vera Clemente said many times that her husband thought he would die young.
The writers and Clemente didn’t always get along. Reporters described Clemente as the “dusky Puerto Rican” and the “fiery Puerto Rican,” according to David Maraniss’ 2006 book Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero. Clemente hated that. He complained that reporters called him a “hot dog” and wrote that he malingered after injuries. Some reporters and broadcasters insisted on calling him “Bob” rather than “Roberto.” Clemente hated that, too. He once said “I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America.”
The relief effort in Nicaragua began right away. The people needed food, clothing, medical supplies. Everything. Red Cross volunteers flew in from Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Tactical hospital units flew in from Fort Hood, Texas, and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Teams from Doctors Without Borders, a newly formed medical assistance group based in Paris, France, arrived.
Unfortunately, according to many reports, most of the aid did not reach the scores of needy people. Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza stockpiled the supplies and kept them from victims, especially from people who did not support his political regime. Reports of this action outraged Clemente. He decided to lead his own aid mission to Nicaragua.
On New Year’s Eve, while revelers partied on, Clemente and four others took off from San Juan Airport and headed for Managua. Clemente, 38, had charted a Douglas DC-7 cargo plane, an aircraft infamous for its mechanical problems. To make matters ever riskier, the plane was overloaded with relief supplies by more than 4,000 pounds. Witnesses said the plane struggled just to get into the air.
The DC-7 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean minutes after take-off at a little after 9 p.m. Radio reports of the disaster soon followed. U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships searched for the wreckage and for any survivors. The body of Clemente, as well as the others on the plane, was never recovered. Besides his wife, Clemente left behind three children.
Clemente hit 240 career home runs and batted .317 to go with his 3,000 hits. Baseball ushered him into the Hall of Fame in 1973. In death, though, this great right-fielder became more than just one of the best baseball players of his time. He became a man to admire for all-time. Pirates General Manager Joe L. Brown said, “He’s a shining star to many, many people. He grows and grows over time. He doesn’t diminish.” Manager Bill Verdon, who played alongside Clemente in the outfield for several seasons, said, “It was like a nightmare when I heard (about Clemente’s death). … He was the greatest all-around baseball player during my era. He could do more things than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Pirates owner John W. Galbreath said, “The news (of Clemente’s death) has just jolted me. Roberto Clemente wasn’t only one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever known, he was one of the greatest persons I ever knew. … If you have to die, how better could your death be exemplified than by being on a mission of mercy.” Clemente himself said this: ”Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
By Glen Sparks
James “Cool Papa” Bell was so fast …
He once scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt.
Bell was so fast …
He once ripped a line drive, legend goes, that hit him in the butt as he slid into second base.
Bell was so fast … (Drum roll, please.)
He could get out of bed, walk across the room, turn out the lights and slip underneath the covers before the room got dark. (We can thank the great catcher Josh Gibson for that one. Satchel Paige also told the tale.)
James Bell grew up in Starkville, Miss. The family lived by a local park, and young James played ball all day. At age 17, he, along with his family, left Mississippi for St. Louis. Bigger city, better jobs. In 1922, at the age of 19, James joined the St. Louis Stars, a Negro League ballclub, as a center-fielder and a left-handed knuckleball pitcher.
They said he was “Cool” because …
He once struck out Oscar Charleston, maybe the best hitter of that time, in a tight situation to win the game. He didn’t let the pressure get to him. He was cool. (Bell also hit a home run that day.)
They called him “Papa” because …
Bill Gatewood, manager of the Stars, said “Cool” Bell wasn’t enough. His player needed something else, something to give the nickname that proper pizazz. Like “Papa.” Like “Cool Papa.”
Bell played for the Stars from 1922-31. He later enjoyed stints with the Detroit Wolves, Kansas City Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and several other teams. Players liked to drink, carouse, and chase women (Times don’t change.) and smoke cigarettes as a way to relax in the dugout (maybe a little). Not Cool Papa Bell.
Teammate Ted Paige: “In fact, in all of the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him smoke, take a drink, or say even one cuss word.”
Well, Bell didn’t make a big deal out of that. What he learned, he learned from home. This is what he said in 1974 for Mississippi History Now, an online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society:
“My mother always told me that it didn’t make any difference about the color of my skin, or how much money I had. The only thing that counted was to be an honest, clean livin’ man who cared about other people. I’ve always tried to live up to those words.”
Bell liked to hit high hoppers into the infield and beat out the throw. He scored that run from first on a bunt against the Bob Lemon All-Stars, a team made up of major-league stars. In 1933, Bell stole 175 bases in 200 games.
He was fast all right, but Buck O’Neil noted this: “Baserunning isn’t only about speed. It’s about technique, cutting the corners and keeping your balance. And Cool Papa, he was a master at all of that.”
The great Cool Papa Bell retired with a splendid .341 batting average. He never hit below .300 in any season. Bill Veeck, the long-time baseball executive, said he’d put Bell up there with Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio on his personal list of all-time great center fielders.
After his playing days, Bell did some coaching and later worked as a night watchman at St. Louis City Hall. He lived in a tough neighborhood, went to church every Sunday, and occasionally attended a Cardinals game, largely unrecognized. Unrecognized, but not bitter about not getting to play in the majors.
“Funny, but I don’t have any regrets about not playing in the majors,” he said. “They say that I was born too soon. I say the doors were opened too late.”
Voters elected Bell to the Hall of Fame on this date in 1974. Bell’s Hall of Fame induction plaque reads, in part, “Contemporaries rated him fastest man on the base paths.”
Cool Papa Bell died on March 7, 1991, age 87, only a few weeks after his wife, Clarabelle, passed way. A statue of Bell stands outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Another statue stands outside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. He also has a plaque on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Rightly, a marker is in place at the Little League ballpark in Starkville where Bell learned how to play ball. In 1999, The Sporting News rated Bell as the 66th best player of time.
Bell was so right …
“They used to say, ‘If we could find a good black player, we’ll sign him.’ They was lying.”
Harmon Killebrew did not just hit baseballs. He punished them for getting into his way. Killebrew blasted 573 home runs into orbit during a 22-year career.
He mashed the first of those long, long, long balls on June 24, 1955, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Detroit Tigers starter Billy Hoeft served up the pitch. Killebrew, a 19-year-old rookie with the Washington Senators, deposited it into the bleachers, the highlight of the day for the Senators, who lost 18-7. (Sign of the times: Detroit starter Hoeft gave up 12 hits and seven runs and still went the distance.) Only 4,188 fans “filled” the stands at Griffith for this Friday tussle.
“Killer” eventually led the American League in home runs six times, topping out at 49 in 1964 and 1969. The slugger stood a few inches shy of 6-feet tall but possessed the forearms of a lumberjack.
Pitchers started getting twitchy as soon as Killebrew entered the on-deck circle. His bats served as a launch vehicle. Baltimore Orioles Manager Paul Richards said, “Killebrew can hit the ball out of any park, including Yellowstone.” He once belted a pitch over the left-field roof at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born June 29, 1936, in little Payette, Idaho, near the Idaho-Oregon state line, one of five children. His dad, Harmon Clayton Sr., played football at little Milliken College in Decatur, Ill, and encouraged his sons to play hard. Here is one great story:
Harmon and his brother Robert were messing around in the yard with Dad. Katherine Killebrew took one look at the beat-up lawn and said, “You’re ruining the grass.” The game went on. Pops Killebrew said to his wife, “We’re not raising grass. We’re raising boys.”
Payette High School never had an athlete like Harmon Killebrew Jr. The youngster earned 12 varsity letters and was signed by the Washington Senators, thanks to a tip from U.S. Sen. Herman Welker, R-Idaho. (It could not have been a hard sell. Killebrew was batting .847 for a local semi-pro team.)
Four days later, Killebrew made his debut with the Senators. He pinch-ran for Clyde Vollmer. Killebrew was six days shy of turning 18. Over the next few years, the muscular prospect with a compact, but powerful, right-handed swing, sat mostly on the Washington bench as a bonus baby. Only later did he get to punish young, impressionable minor-league pitchers.
Finally, in 1959, Killer played in his first full Major League season. He promptly led the A.L. with 42 home runs. He also made the All-Star team, something he would do another 11 times.
The Senators left for Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1961 and were re-christened as the Twins. Killebrew took his home-run swing with him. From 1961-64, he belted 188 balls out of the park.
He also led the league in RBI three times. And, despite a pedestrian .256 career batting average, Killebrew retired with a .376 on-base percentage, thanks to a good eye and careful pitching. He topped A.L. batters in intentional walks three times.
The baseball writers elected Killebrew to the Hall of Fame in 1984. His No. 3 is retired by the Twins, of course, and a street at the famous Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., bears his name. One rumor is that the MLB logo is modeled after Killebrew
Killer now stands at No. 11 on the all-time home run list. He is tied with Rogers Hornsby at 38th on the RBI list (1,584) and is 15th on the all-time walks list (1,559). He also is Idaho’s all-time home run champ by far, 502 ahead of Vance Law.
Known for his kind heart, Killebrew organized the Danny Thomson Memorial Golf Tournament in honor of a Twins teammate who died of leukemia. The tournament still goes on every year in Sun Valley, Idaho, and benefits cancer research efforts.
Killebrew spent time as a broadcaster for a few years after retiring, worked as a coach and nearly died from infections after suffering a collapsed lung and damaged esophagus in 1990. He passed away in hospice care of esophageal cancer on May 17, 2011, at the age of 74.
The slugger once said, “I didn’t have evil intentions, but I guess I did have power.”
By Glen Sparks
Eddie Gaedel, all 43 inches of him, stepped into the batter’s box on Aug. 19, 1951, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. He wore uniform No. “1/8” for the Browns, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.
Gaedel, 26 years old, weighed all of 65 pounds, or as much as Ted Kluszewski’s left forearm. He did his best to strike a pose reminiscent of Joe DiMaggio and batted from the right side, as if that mattered. Detroit Tigers pitcher Bob Cain couldn’t help but laugh. “Keep it low,” Detroit catcher Bob Swift instructed.
Browns owner Bill Veeck had to be busting a gut. He came up with the prank. Later, he wrote, “(Gaedel) was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one.”
Supposedly, a short story written in 1941 by humorist James Thurber, about a tiny baseball player, inspired Veeck. Always a showman, Veeck hired his p.r. guy to find just the right diminutive man. He added, make sure he looks good in a baseball uniform.
Gaedel, born June 8, 1925, in Chicago, fit the description. He was a performer, a card-carrying member of the American Guild of Variety Artists and did promotional work for Mercury Records.
The Browns’ traveling secretary, Bill Durney, went to Chicago and picked up Gaedel. Durney wrapped the “prospect” in blankets and smuggled him into the Chase Hotel in St. Louis. Gaedel put on a uniform belonging to Browns batboy Bill DeWitt Jr., whose dad was a team executive. (DeWitt went on to bigger and better things. He now owns the St. Louis Cardinals.) First, though, Veeck had DeWitt’s No. 6 switched to No. 1/8, just to make things even funnier.
Veeck gave Gaedel a contract worth $15,400, or $100 per day. Then, he told Gaedel to follow the plan. Don’t swing at anything, he said. Don’t think about even lifting that bat off your shoulder, he ordered. And, stand in the box with a deep crouch. (Veeck figured that Gaedel in a crouch had a strike zone of about an inch and a half.)
The Browns didn’t waste any time milking the joke. Manager Zack Taylor brought Gaedel into the game in the bottom of the first inning as a pinch hitter for outfielder Frank Saucier. (The PA announcer: “For the Browns, Number One/Eighth, Eddie Gaedel, batting for Saucier.”Umpire Ed Hurley couldn’t believe it. What the heck was going on?! “A stunned crowd (20,299 paid, 18,369 in the house) came alive with laughter at the sight of the economy-sized leadoff batter,” Broeg wrote in the next day’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Hurley ordered Taylor to home plate. Taylor ran out, Gaedel’s big-league contract in hand. (Veeck had filed the contract with major league baseball on late Friday. He knew that no one would look at it until Monday morning. The doubleheader was on Sunday.)
An official big leaguer, Gaedel opened his stance DiMaggio-like and looked like he might swing. Pitcher Cain, though, couldn’t get anything close to Gaedel’s still-tiny strike zone. “Get outta that hole,” players on the Tigers bench shouted. Cain walked the batter on four pitches. Taylor immediately ordered Jim Delsing to pinch-run for Gaedel, who left the field to a standing ovation. “As the fans roared, he (Gaedel) bowed and doffed his cap repeatedly,” Broeg wrote. The smallest player in the big leagues boasted, “For a minute, I felt like Babe Ruth.”
Veeck’s stunt didn’t amuse American League president Will Harridge, who called the little affair a mockery of the game and voided Gaedel’s contract. Baseball even kept Gaedel’s official appearance out of the record books for a time. (Not that it really matters, but the Browns—predictably—lost both games of the doubleheader, 5-2 and 6-2, en route to a 52-102 campaign. The Browns lost a lot.)
Fans loved Eddie Gaedel. The former ballplayer went on to make about $17,000 in personal appearance fees. He even worked awhile in the Ringling Brothers circus. Hollywood directors beckoned, but Eddie refused to go.
Ultimately, Gaedel settled back in Chicago. He got a job at a bar and drank too much of the merchandise. That led to plenty of fights and arguments. Gaedel was a spicy drunk.
He got liquored up for a final time on June 18, 1961. Some rough guys followed him home from a bowling alley and beat him up bad. Gaedel’s mom found her son lying in bed, bruised and dead. Eddie Gaedel was just 36 years old. Bob Cain–yes, the pitcher from what is known now and forever as “the Gaedel game”–attended the funeral service, the lone representative from baseball.
Various Eddie Gaedel societies celebrate the memory of the famous pinch-hitter and the shortest player of all-time. The Los Angles chapter, for instance, offers a toast to Eddie every Aug. 19.
Gaedel’s Browns uniform is on display at the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, located across the street from Busch Stadium.
By Glen Sparks
Don Drysdale turned at-bats into nasty business. He stood nearly six-feet, six-inches and hurled 95 mph heat. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ right-hander struck out 2,486 batters in his 14-year career and hit 154.
You’ve heard of an uncomfortable 0-for-4. Drysdale was a terrifying 0-for-4. He liked to talk about his 2-for-1 policy. You hit one of my guys, he’d say, I’ll hit two of your guys. Drysdale disdained intentional walks. He’d smack the guy and save three pitches.
Big D glared at hitters the way a drill instructor glares at buck privates. He looked like a tiger in need of a steak. He squinted in for the sign like a great white shark squints to find a lonely surfer.
Batting against Drysdale was like an afternoon at the beach. On jellyfish day. He hit guys like Joe Louis hit pikers from Palookaville. Drysdale bruised 18 opponents in 1959 and 20 in 1961.
Drysdale hailed from Van Nuys, California, born July 23, 1936, a Valley boy from a different time. He probably scared off half the kids from North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1954 for a $4,000 bonus and $600 a month.
The Dodgers promoted Drysdale to the big club in 1956, a 19-year-old, all arms, legs and fastball. He promptly won five and lost five, with a 2.64 ERA (152 ERA+) in 99 innings. The kid was good. The next year, he improved to 17-9 and posted a 2.69 ERA (153 ERA+).
Going Back to Cali
In 1958, the Dodgers moved to L.A. The California guy went home. Following a down year (12-13, 4.17 ERA), he won 17 games and struck out 242 batters in ’59, the most by a National League pitcher in 35 years. Even better, he led the Dodgers to a World Series title against the Chicago White Sox.
Over the next decade, Drysdale solidified his Hall of Fame career. He topped the N.L. in wins once and strikeouts two more times. The man never missed a start. Drysdale won 25 games in 1962 and took home the Cy Young Award. He finished fifth in the MVP voting. No. 53 fanned a career-high 251 the next year.
Drysdale and Sandy Koufax made a magnificent 1-2 combo. Koufax, left-handed and elegant. Drysdale, right-handed and fierce. They started games in the warm twilight at Dodger Stadium, hurling unhittable pitches fired into sunlight and shadow. For opposing line-ups, it was more like a California nightmare than a California dream.
The dynamic duo led the Dodgers to World Series titles in 1963 and ’65. Drysdale beat the Yankees, 1-0, in Game 3 of the ’63 Fall Classic. He gave up three hits and struck out nine. “How’d this guy ever lose 17 games?” one Yankee asked.
The answer: Don and Sandy didn’t get much help from the offense. Drysdale went 19-17 in 1963 but boasted an admirable 2.63 ERA. (L.A. scored its lone run in Game 3 on a walk, a wild pitch and a two-out single.) The Dodgers’ attack was about as scary as your cousin Sissy’s pet beagle. The Dodgers made it home about as often as Gilligan and the Skipper.
(Supposedly, true story, probably apocryphal: On June 3, 1964, Drysdale lost an 11-inning game against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he went 10 1/3 innings and gave up just four hits. He then left the team to take care of some personal business in Washington, D.C. On June 4, unbeknownst to Drysdale, Koufax threw a no-hitter. Some guy at the hotel told the big guy. Drysdale: “Did we win?”)
Drysdale probably put up his best year in 1964. He compiled an 18-16 won-loss record, but he attached a 2.18 ERA (147 ERA+) onto that over a career-high 321 1/3 innings. He gave up an average of just 6.8 hits per nine innings, a career low.
In 1968, in his next-to-last season, Drysdale set a major-league record. He hurled 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and put up a 2.15 ERA (128 ERA+). And, if he tossed a few spitballs that year, well, so be it. He wasn’t the only one.
Big D started off 5-4 in 1969 with a 4.45 ERA. His right shoulder had thrown enough pitches. He called a press conference, shed some tears, and said he was done. Drysdale, who looked like a movie star (guest star on The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch and Experiment in Terror with Glenn Ford and Lee Remick, among other Hollywood credits), retired with a 209-166 record and a 2.95 ERA (121 ERA+). He tossed 49 shutouts and hit 29 home runs. Drysdale took the ball every fourth day and led the league in starts from 1962-65. He made eight All-Star teams.
Retired from playing, Drysdale turned to broadcasting. He called games for a few teams, including his beloved Dodgers, and did some national T.V. work. The writers finally voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
On July 3, 1992, Drysdale died of a heart attack at his hotel room in Montreal, hours before a game that evening between the Dodgers and Expos. Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully announced his death over the radio. He began it this way: “Friends, we’ve known each other a long time, and I’ve had to make a lot of announcements, some more painful than others. But never have I been asked to make an announcement that hurts me as much as this one. And I say it to you as best I can with a broken heart.”
Reporters asked Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ manager and a long-time friend and former teammate of Drysdale’s, for a comment. There’s Tommy sitting on a stool, his uniform top partly unbuttoned, the heavy bags resting beneath his eyes. He is tearing up, the voice trying to stay strong. He looks at the camera. He says this about Drysdale, “He was a man’s man.”
Drysdale stands out today as a legendary pitcher from a tougher, by-gone era in baseball, one of high, inside baseballs and black-and-blue rib cages. Orlando Cepeda said the trick to an at-bat against Drysdale was this: “Hit him before he hits you.”
Donald Scott Drysdale was one tough pitcher.
By Glen Sparks
Supposedly, Norman Stearnes sported a potbelly as a kid. The family thought he looked like a little turkey. Another story is that he ran around the bases kind of funny, flapping his arms. Either way, we know Norman Thomas Stearnes as “Turkey” Stearnes.
Stats guru Bill James rated him the 25th best player of all time in his Historical Abstract. Which is great. And kind of a shame. James rated Frank Robinson the 24th best player and Rickey Henderson the 26th best player. We know a lot about those guys. They’re both African-American, but they competed in the era after integration.
Playing in the Negro Leagues, like Stearnes did, probably didn’t get you onto Page 1 of the sports section in too many mainstream newspapers.
Stearns was born May 8, 1901, in Nashville, Tenn. If baseball had been doing the right thing all along, he would have played alongside immortals like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby.
As it was, Stearnes got less attention and far less money to play with and compete against great players from the Negro Leagues. He traveled on rickety buses from 1921 to 1942 for teams such as the Detroit Stars, the Kansas City Monarchs, the Philadelphia Stars and the Chicago American Giants. He earned as much as $600 a month, good money for a Negro League player from that time.
Do you remember Mark Fydrich? He put together a couple of big years for the Detroit Tigers in the mid-’70s before tearing up his shoulder. People loved him because he had a big smile and a mop of curly hair that made him look a bit like Big Bird of Sesame Street fame. Fydrich also had a habit of talking to the baseball.
Well, Stearnes did something like that. He liked talking to his bats. He would sit in the dugout or his hotel room and give a pep talk to his 35-ounce Louisville Slugger. Apparently, the bat responded.
This is what we know about Stearnes’ career stats in the Negro Leagues: .344 batting average, 176 home runs and a .621 slugging percentage. He played in 750 games. After retiring, Stearnes worked for 30 years at a Detroit auto plant. He died on Sept. 4, 1979 at age 78.
Hall of Famer Bell once said, “If they don’t put (Stearnes) in the Hall of Fame, they shouldn’t put anyone in. Former Detroit Stars third baseman Ray Sheppard said “If the doors would have been open to the majors, Stearnes would have been a star. He hit 35 or 40 home runs a year. My God, he was great.” Cooperstown finally agreed and enshrined Stearnes in 2000.
Like many players from the Negro Leagues, Stearnes’ story gets foggy at times. We don’t know that much about him. How many books do we have about Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio? Maybe it’s time for someone to tackle a far tougher project—The Life Story of Turkey Stearnes.
By Glen Sparks
Does Yadier Molina already have his ticket punched for the Hall of Fame? Has the St. Louis Cardinals catcher done enough to merit a plaque at Cooperstown?
Yadi, who will be 36 on July 13, signed a three-year, $60 million contract last spring that takes effect this year. He plans to retire when that deal is up after the 2020 season. Does Molina need to end his career on a high note? Will eight Gold Gloves and eight All-Star selections—through 2017—be enough for HOF voters?
How do experts view Molina’s chances? Bob Nightengale, baseball writer for USA Today, included Molina with Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Beltre as stars who “don’t have to play another game and they’re in.”
ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney argued in a column last April that “he (Molina) should be elected into the Hall of Fame, easy.” Olney spoke to former St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa about Molina and Cooperstown. LaRussa pointed out that the Redbirds have been one of baseball’s best teams during Molina’s tenure, winning two World Series. “LaRussa explained,” Olney wrote, “…. what distinguished the Cardinals In this time was Yadier Molina, a catcher bearing a set of skills that no other team could come close to replicating for about a decade.”
What about Molina’s throwing arm? Olney pointed out that “Molina has been a shutdown catcher.” Yadi became the Cardinals’ full-time catcher in 2005. Through 2016, the team had allowed 651 stolen bases, or nearly 300 fewer than the next stingiest team, the Arizona Diamondbacks (934). And, Molina is an expert at picking off careless baserunners. Between 2005 and 2016, he recorded 45 pickoffs. Russell Martin had the second most in that span, 19.
So, what does Olney conclude? Well, he may have written that “(Molina) should be elected into the Hall of Fame, easy.” He followed that with, “But he probably won’t be.” So, what’s the rub? “Offense,” Olney writes.
How do Molina’s offensive numbers stack up against other Hall of Fame catchers? The average enshrined catcher has a batting average of .289, plus 1,043 runs scored, 2,031 hits, 298 home runs, 1,210 RBI, and an OPS+ of 124. Going into 2018, Yadi has a .284 career batting average, plus 601 runs, 1,730 hits, 126 home runs, 785 RBI, and an OPS+ of 98.
Molina’s counting numbers were certainly helped by his 2017 campaign. He knocked 18 homers, the second-highest figure of his career. He also drove in a career-high 82 runs. Even so, he still just posted a 96 OPS+, down from his career mark. Assuming Yadi stays healthy over the next three seasons, he still should fall short of the HOF catchers’ average in most categories. He’ll probably end up with more than 2,031 hits. He has 301 to go.
Graham Womack wrote an article a couple of years ago for Sporting News. The headline might make a Yadi fan cringe –“Yadier Molina’s surprisingly weak Hall of Fame case.” The problem? Yes, once again, it’s offense. Womack looked at Molina’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the in-vogue stat for assessing players. The average Hall of Fame catcher has a WAR of 52.5. Molina had a WAR of 30.3 when Womack wrote his piece, 35.4 now. Three years from now, that number figures to be around 40. Will it be enough?
WAR places more emphasis on offense than defense. Yadi has a career defensive WAR of 22.1 but an offensive WAR of just 23.1. (WAR includes a positional adjustment, thus dWAR and oWAR usually do not add up to the player’s overall WAR rating.) Among Hall of Fame catchers, Ray Schalk has a comparable WAR (23.7), no one else has a lower number. (I’m not including former catchers Al Lopez, Wilbert Robinson, and Connie Mack, who earned Hall of Fame plaques more for their managerial talent than their playing ability.)
So, how does Yadi’s dWAR rank among other top catchers of all-time? He is fifth overall, behind Ivan Rodriguez (28.7), Gary Carter (25.5), Bob Boone (25.3), and Jim Sundberg (25.3). By time he retires—again, assuming he stays healthy—Molina could skip past those players. (Molina had a 1.1 dWAR in 2017, a 0.7 in 2016 and a 1.6 in 2015. If he duplicates those numbers from 2018-2020, he’ll retire with a dWAR of 25.5, tying him with HOFer Carter for second place.) It should be noted that while Rodriguez and Carter have earned spots in Cooperstown, Boone and Sundberg haven’t. (The more curious readers may be interested in Johnny Bench’s career dWAR. It is 19.3, sixth all-time among catchers.)
How does Yadi rank with the five most recent catchers elected to the Hall of Fame? We’ll go over Molina’s stats again and include a few more numbers.
Yadier Molina (2004-????), 126 HR, 785 RBI, .284, .336 on-base percentage, .403 slugging percentage, 35.4 WAR, eight Gold Gloves.
Ivan Rodriguez (1991-2011), 311 HR, 1,332 RBI, .296 Avg., .344 OBP, .464 SLG, 68.4 WAR, 13 GG
Mike Piazza: (1992-2007), 427 HR, 1,335 RBI, .308 Avg., .377 OBP, .545 SLG., 59.4 WAR, O GGs
Gary Carter: (1974-92), 324 HR, 1,225 RBI, .262 Avg., .335, OBP .439 SLG., 69.9 WAR, 3 GGs
Carlton Fisk: (1969, 1971-93), 376 HR, 1,330 RBI, .269 Avg., .341 OBP, .457 SLG., 68.3 WAR, 1 GG
Johnny Bench: (1967-83), 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, .267 Avg., .342 OBP, .476 SLG., 75.0 WAR, 10 GGs
Now, consider some other top catchers from the past few generations. All these backstops have come up short in Hall of Fame voting. Will Yadi also fall short?
Thurman Munson: (1969-79), 113, 701, .292, .346, .410, 45.9, 3 GGs
Lance Parrish: (1977-95), 324, 1,070, .252, .313. .440, .39.3., 3 GGs
Ted Simmons: (1968-88), 248, 1,389, .285, .348, .437, 50.1. O GGs
Bill Freehan: (1961, 63-78), 200, 758, .262, .340, .412, 44.7. 5 GGs
Jim Sundberg: (1974-89), 95, 624, .248, .327, .348, 40.5 6 GGs
Jim Sundberg again? Well, what about Jim Sundberg? Luis Torres wrote an article last spring for Beyond the Box Score titled “A different perspective on Yadier Molina’s Hall of Fame case.” Torres has some fun as he argues the merits of Molina vs. Sundberg. His conclusion? “Molina is not much different from Sundberg, and nobody pushed Sundberg’s Hall of Fame candidacy.” He adds, “I don’t doubt that Yadi’s leadership and pitching staff management were valuable, but how valuable were they? … I do not believe that Molina is a Hall of Famer right now. … The good news is that he still has time to accrue value.”
What do Redbird fans think? I’ve included a few comments from fans who wrote in after Viva el Birds (a popular Cardinals blog) published an article titled “How does Yadier Molina compare to 2017’s Hall of Fame ballot catchers?”:
ESPN has Molina going in to the hall in 2033
I think he does have an outside shot of going in, but he needs a bounce back year defensively. If he could capture 2 more gold gloves while remaining a better than average hitter, I think he will go in. However, I think it will be tough to un-seat Posey in the NL gold glove.
Nah I think he makes it in the back half of his eligibility
Yadi has such a reputation, that when you factor in the amount of innings he consistently catches, his place as the one constant of the Cardinals’ 21st century success, and the status of being the best defensive catcher of this era, I bet he makes it in around year 7 or 8.
And because I will never tire of citing Schoenfield’s ESPN article about him, this is a good spot to leave this here:
With him starting: 449-317 (.586)
Without: 94-96 (.495)
That’s a 70-game difference over less than 5 full seasons worth of games.
I think the real problem I have…
…is his peak was so short. As we currently value catchers he only had 1-2 seasons over 6 WAR and only minor MVP consideration.
Nah, his peak has been fine, you are just defining his peak based only on offense.
I realize that how to measure catcher defense and the available data are not there, and probably won’t be for a while, but that doesn’t mean that the defensive value we can’t measure doesn’t exist…just that we have a hard time placing a number on it.
It is just one opinion, but I remember Dave Cameron unequivocally answering the question, “Who is most under rated by WAR?” during a chat with, “Until we figure out how to measure catcher defense, Yadier Molina.”
Let’s go back to the “Weak Case” article for just a minute. Why? Womack offers some good news for Molina supporters. He predicts that Molina ultimately will be voted into the Hall of Fame. Yes, it may take a while. He writes: “It’s hard to describe what about Molina makes him feel like a Hall of Famer, even in spite of pedestrian offensive sabermetric stats. But there’s something about him that suggests he won’t have too many problems when he debuts on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s ballot for Cooperstown in eight or 10 years. It may anger some in the sabermetric or online baseball writing community, but it is what it is.”
What do I think? Well, for what it’s worth (and I don’t have a vote), I think Molina will get into the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure he is a slam-dunk, no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer, but not every candidate for induction is Willie Mays, Stan Musial, or Greg Maddux. It will certainly help Molina’s case if he can stay healthy for the next few years even as St. Louis super-prospect Carson Kelly waits for his chance. As Womack wrote, Molina simply has the feel of a Hall of Famer.
What do you think? The Yadier Molina Hall of Fame debate is a fun one. It certainly comes with lots of questions.
By Glen Sparks
The great–and disgraced–“Shoeless Joe” Jackson died on this day in 1951. One of the best players ever, Jackson batted .356 over a 13-year career. Commissioner “Kennesaw Mountain” Landis kicked Joe and seven other Chicago White Sox players out of baseball after they allegedly threw the 1919 World Series for $5,000 apiece.
Jackson’s story—the part about how his career ended, at least– is sports tragedy. The early part is pure Americana, Southern style. Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born on July 16, 1887, in rural Pickens County, South Carolina. He began working as a millhand at age six or seven and almost died following a bout with the measles when he was 10. A few years later, young Joe began playing baseball on a mill team.
(Why “Shoeless” Joe? Well, the story goes back to the mill days. Joe put on some new, uncomfortable, cleats. His feet ached. So, he took of his shoes. He stood barefoot in the outfield. He stood barefoot as walked into the batter’s box. Not surprisingly, the other players noticed.)
Jackson signed with the Philadelphia A’s in 1908. He didn’t play much in his first two seasons. The A’s traded Jackson to the Cleveland Naps in 1910. Jackson hit .408 in 1911, .395 in 1912 and .373 in 1913. The outfielder established himself as one of the game’s great players. He could still barely read.
The White Sox traded for Jackson in August 1915. Shoeless Joe batted .341 in 1916 and helped Chicago to a World Series championship the following year. Jackson blended in with other great White Sox players from this era, including Buck Weaver, Eddie Collins, Eddie Cicotte and “Lefty” Williams.
Chicago’s 1919 squad went 88-52 and captured the American League pennant. The White Sox met the Cincinnati Reds in the fall classic. There had been rumors of a fix long before Cincinnati’s “Dutch” Ruether threw the first pitch on Oct. 1 at Redland Field. Many White Sox players loathed owner Charles Comiskey. He was a cheapskate, the ballplayers swore. If they could get a few extra bucks out of a bigshot gambler like Arnold Rothstein, so be it. Rothstein, a New York City mobster, bankrolled the scandal.
Cincinnati took a 2-0 lead in the Series, but Chicago tied things up after four games. The Reds won the best-of-nine match-up five games to three. Alfred “Greasy” Neale led Cincinnati. The outfielder batted .357 (10-for-28) with three runs scored and four RBIs. Pitcher Horace “Hod” Eller won both his starts. The right-hander hurled two complete games, gave up four runs and struck out 15.
Jackson batted .375 in the Series (12-for-32) and knocked the lone home run. He hit .351 in the regular season. A Chicago grand jury acquitted Jackson and the others in 1921. Even so, the all-powerful Landis banned them all. Said Landis: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” (Eddie Collins, never implicated in the scandal, batted .226 in the World Series. The future Hall of Fame hit .319 in the regular season.)
Jackson retired to his native South Carolina and proclaimed himself innocent. Was he? Well, we’ll probably never know for sure. Reportedly, he refused the money. We know that Jackson’s .375 batting average led all hitters in the Series, White Sox and Reds. He not only hit the only Series home run, he also handled 30 chances and didn’t commit an error. Jackson threw out five baserunners.
Some experts point out that Jackson hit just .286 in Chicago’s five losses. Well, OK. But, .286 is still respectable batting. (National and American league hitters averaged .263 in the 1919 season.) And, he split his six RBIs between wins and losses. That home run? Jackson ripped it in a 10-5 loss in Game 8.
It probably didn’t help Jackson’s cause that he had White Sox team attorney Alfred Austrian representing him. Austrian, among other things, talked Jackson into signing a waiver of immunity from prosecution. Supposedly, Jackson never confessed to throwing the Series, as Eliot Asinof claimed in the 1963 book Eight Men Out.
(You may know that the most famous story connected with the Black Sox scandal never happened. The story goes that a kid, with tears in his eyes, afraid that his favorite team had thrown the World Series for money, races up the Chicago courthouse steps, tugs at the pants of the great—now sullied—Jackson and pleads to his fallen hero, “Say it isn’t so, Joe.”
Jackson, not a really articulate guy, solemnly says, “It is so, kid.” He then takes one more step toward the clicking cameras, the eager reporters and his doomed, and sealed, fate.
The story is a good one; it certainly captures the poignancy of the moment. Jackson, though, later said that no one–not a crying kid, not a hotshot news man—spoke to him as the grand jury testimony concluded. Apparently, he left through a back entrance and hitched a ride home with a court deputy.)
Baseball expert Bill James has rated Jackson as the 33rd greatest player of all-time. He is, nevertheless, banned from any Hall of Fame honors (If he could get in, he’d be in). Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, dead now for 66 years, remains—like all the Black Sox players—on baseball’s ineligible list.