Tag Archives: Bill Dickey

Ed Barrow’s All-Time All-Stars

26 Mar

“The old-timers. They were better hitters! No question about it.”

Said Ed Barrow after he became president of the New York Yankees in 1939 and Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News had the 71-year-old pick his all-time team.

Barrow

Powers said of Barrow:

“The beetle-browed executive, one of the few remaining links between the gas-lit, coach-and-four, Wee Willie Keeler era and the moderns, boomed at us across his wide, flat-topped desk in the offices of the New York baseball club.”

Barrow was “a great believer in ‘natural born’ stars,’ telling Powers, “A fellow has it—or he hasn’t it.”

He explained his theory:

“Once in a while a manager will make a few minor corrections in stance, or change something here and there, but if player hasn’t the natural coordination, the God-given physique, the reflexes for rhythm and timing, he’ll never get ‘em. Sometimes one man will get more mileage out of his talents than another because he will work harder. That’s why the old-timers were better hitters. They looked at better pitching, and they practiced and practiced and practiced.”

Barrow said there was one reason in particular for why old-timers were better hitters:

“The tipoff is in the strikeout column. The moderns strikeout oftener—and there’s your answer. The present-day hitter is so homerun crazy that half the time he closes his eyes and swings; four bases or nothing! Usually, it’s nothing.”

Barrow’s told Powers:

“Now, on my All-Star, All-Time team I’d put Cobb, Speaker and Ruth in the outfield. Chase, Lajoie, Wagner, and Jimmy Collins in the infield. Matty, Johnson, Waddell, and McGinnity, pitchers. And Bill Dickey, catcher…I’d put Joe DiMaggio on that team as utility outfielder. I’d put Lou Gehrig as substitute first baseman and pinch hitter. Bill Bradley, Eddie Collins, Swede Risberg, and Buck Weaver would also get contracts on this ‘Dream Team.’ Keeler would be another utility outfielder and Bresnahan would be my second catcher. Ruffing and Gomez would fill out my pitching staff!”

Barrow’s All-Stars

Barrow said he could offer “a million reasons’ for the rationale for each selected player. 

“(R)ecords can be misleading…I won’t quote you records of my All-Timers…A man must be in the dugout or in the stands to weigh the merits of a player and not be influenced by a record book.”

He said in choosing his team, he held “no grudges,” which is why he selected Risberg and Weaver, “Black Sox scandal or not.”

He said he would add Joe Jackson to the team, “if I thought he was smart enough. But Jackson, strange to say, was the only dumb one on that whole team. Up until 1938s Yankees—those Black Sox were the best team in baseball!”

As for some of his picks:

“Chase on first base! Nobody near him. He could throw a ball through a knothole, covered the whole infield like a cat, and remember he used a glove that just covered his fingers and seldom had a palm. The ‘peach baskets’ first basemen use today would have been barred years back, Chase could hit behind the runner, bunt, steal, fake a bunt at third and then bunt over the third baseman’s head. He could do all the tricks.”

Chase

He called Napoleon Lajoie “the most graceful second baseman I have ever seen. He had a rifle arm and was as slick as a panther,” and gave him the edge “by a slight margin” over Eddie Collins.

Honus Wagner, who Barrow signed for the Patterson Silk Weavers in 1896, “is my nomination as the greatest individual ballplayer of all time.”

Of his first impression of Wagner, he said:

“He was pretty terrible when I first ran across him, looked awkward as all get-out. But suddenly he would come through with a perfectly dazzling play that had everybody on our bench swallowing his tobacco cud in astonishment.”

Like Lajoie, Barrow said Jimmy Collins just edged out the second choice—Bill Bradley—because:

“Collins could make perfect throws to first from any position. When an infielder makes an off-balance throw today the crowd gives him a big hand. The old timers did it every play because the old ball was slow dribbling out there. Today the lively ball comes out fast in one or two hops, and this gives the third baseman a chance to make his throw from a ‘straightened up’ stance.…Remember, in the old days the ball was dark, wet with slippery elm juice; often it was smudged with grass stains, hard to follow.”

In the outfield, Barrow said, “I don’t think anyone will give you an argument on Cobb-Speaker-Ruth.”

He called Ty Cobb “the greatest hitter of all time,” with “a lightning-quick brain and plenty of gut.”

Babe Ruth, he said was, in addition to the being the “great slugger of all-time,” changed the game because of “His salary, his magnetic personality, and his publicity.”

Tris Speaker “was superb. A good hitter, a great fielder, a brainy man. He was so confident of his ability ‘to go back’ he practically camped on second base.”

Of the pitching staff, he said Christy Mathewson “could do almost everything with a baseball—practically make it talk.”

Of Walter Johnson he said:

“He had awe-inspiring speed. You’d stand up there watching and suddenly—pfffft—pfffft—pfffft. Three phantom bullets whizzed past. Too fast for your eyes to focus ‘em.”

Rube Waddell was “the best lefthander” he had seen.

Joe McGinnity appeared to be a sentimental choice:

“(He) was a work horse, a competent soul who loved the game so much I believe he’d work for nothing.”

Bill Dickey, he said was not “given the credit” he deserved:

“He’s a hitter. A workmanlike receiver. Handles pitchers marvelously. Has a good arm. Is fast. Is always one jump ahead of the opposition. Dickey does everything well.”

“You Could Feel his Resentment”

22 Feb

After spending years as one of the loudest voices for the integration of professional baseball, Wendell Smith broke his own color barriers. He was the second African American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America–after Sam Lacy– and the first to have a byline in a big city white daily paper leaving The Pittsburgh Courier and joining the Hearst owned Chicago Herald-American in 1948.

Smith

Years later, William Rhoden quoted Smith’s widow Wyonella in his column in The New York Times regarding smith’s move:

“When he came to Chicago to write, he told the Hearst people. ‘I will not be your black writer. I’m not going to just write about blacks in sports. If you want me to be a sportswriter here, I’m going to right about all sports, and I’m going to do it fairly.’”

In 1963 he became a sports anchor, first at WGN-TV and later WBBM-TV in Chicago.  He also began writing a weekly column for The Chicago Sun-Times; but never gave up his new crusade for the recognition of Negro League stars; in 1971 he made the case for Josh Gibson’s enshrinement in Cooperstown:

“He hit home runs higher and farther than any batter of his time, including George Herman (Babe) Ruth, whose feats are immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

“He was a big, strong, intelligent catcher. He was as magnificent behind the plate as any of his major league contemporaries, including Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, and Gabby Hartnett, all of whom have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“He played someplace summer and winter, spring and fall over a span of 16 years. He had the endurance and stamina of Lou Gehrig, who played in 2130 consecutive games from 1925 to 1939, a major league record. Gehrig is in the Hall of Fame. He is not.”

Gibson

Smith said of Gibson’s presence in the batter’s box:

“When he planted his immense, flat feet in the batter’s box, bent his knees slightly and cocked his bat with the most muscular arms and hands in baseball, apprehension invariably seized the defenders in the field.”

Because, said Smith, ”There are no authentic records, unfortunately to substantiate the thunder in Josh Gibson’s bat, nor his skills behind the plate,” he turned to “reliable former teammates who were there with him,” and other contemporaries to tell his story:

Roy Campanella told Smith about the night Gibson hit three home runs off Andy Porter in Wheeling, West Virginia. Campanella told a slightly different version of the story than he had 12 years earlier in his book “It’s Good to be Alive:”

“’He hit three home runs that night,’ Campanella recently recalled, with a note of awe and excitement in his highly pitched voice. ‘Each one was farther than the other.’

“’There was a mountain there, a good distance behind the left field fence…His first drive landed at the bottom of the mountain. The next one landed dead center, and the next almost cleared the mountain. When he came to bat the fourth time, I said to Porter, ‘what are you going to do with him this time?’ He said, ‘I’m going to walk him. ‘And we did.’”

In the book, Campanella said Gibson hit four runs in four at-bats, with each being longer until the fourth cleared the hill.

Bill Yancey told Smith about another Gibson three-home run performance, this one in New York:

“He walloped three that day and one of them was the quickest home run I ever saw. It was out of the park before the outfielders could turn their heads to watch it. It landed behind the Yankee Stadium bullpen, some 500 feet away. He didn’t loft it, he shot it out of there.”

Alex Pompez the one-time owner of the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans, then a scout for the Giants, and had just joined Smith as a charter member of the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, told a story about a game at the Polo Grounds:

“Dave Barnhill was pitching for the Cubans. There were two on in the ninth and we were leading 3 to 2. Showboat Wright [sic, Dave “Showboat” Thomas] our first baseman, called time and walked to the mound. ‘Let’s walk him’ he said to Barnhill.

“Barnhill as a cocky pitcher. He refused (the) suggestion and insisted on pitching to Josh. He threw Gibson a curve ball and Josh hit it in the top tier of the left field stands. The last we saw the ball was when it went through an open door up there and disappeared.”

Pompez

After Pat Scantlebury gave up three home runs to Gibson in another game, he told Pompez:

“I pitched him high the first time and he hit it out of the park. So, the next time I pitched him low and he hit that one out, too. The third time, I pitched him tight and it followed the others out. When he batted the fourth time, I started to roll it to him, but instead I walked him.”

Smith also sought out Gibson’s sister, Annie Mahaffey and Ted Page who was “closer to Josh than any other player.”

Smith visited Mahaffey in her home in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He noted “Strangely, there are no pictures of Josh Gibson,” in her home:

“The resemblance between Annie Mahaffey and her brother, Josh, is striking indeed. She has the same round, brown face. Her gentle smile is contagious.

“’He’d come here whenever he was in town,’ Annie recalls with a note of pride in her voice, ‘and he’d have us laughing about the funny things that happened on the road. He would sit here and talk, have a sandwich maybe, and just keep us amused with his stories. He loved life, Josh did.’”

Page said:

“He’d never talk about himself. I never heard him say one thing about himself that was intended to impress someone.

“He was extremely modest. I roomed with him in this country and South America and got to know him well.  If he hit four home runs in a game—which he did many times—you’d never know anything about it if you were getting your news of the game from him. He’d never walk up to you and say, ‘Well, I hit four of ‘em today.’”

Page

Page said Gibson was the opposite of Satchel Paige:

“When Satch pitched a no hitter, he told the whole world about it. We got little or no space in the daily papers, so he’d sit around and those third-rate hotels we lived in, and in taverns and restaurants, and tell everybody about his achievements. Everyone would gather round Satch and he’d spin tall tales for them, and they’d go away laughing and talking about him. Josh would never do that.”

Sportswriters, Page said, “always complained that he wouldn’t open up and talk about himself.”

Gibson’s sister said “he talked baseball all the time at home. He talked about other players and how good they were, and how many games were won or lost on certain types of strategy…Josh used to laugh so hard when telling a story he’d shake all over.”

Page said Gibson “loved baseball, never got bored with the game nor the terrible conditions we had to tolerate at times.”

Gibson also did not join his teammates “playing cards or meeting girls,” Page said:

“Josh was seldom with them. We’d go to an ice cream parlor or some other harmless place and talk baseball.”

Gibson’s sister and Page saw his reaction to baseball segregation differently.

Mahaffy said:

“There were all kinds of racial problems in those days, but Josh never let them get him down. If they ever bothered him, he never said so. He never once mentioned the fact that the color bar in the majors was a terrible injustice. He laughed off most of the things that happened to him.”

Page said:

“Josh never talked about the organized baseball ban against us. But he was always aware of it and it finally killed him. He kept things to himself, but if you knew him you could feel his resentment. We went to see a lot of big-league games and when he saw players who were inferior to him, he became sullen and the bitterness seemed to just ooze from him.”

Both agreed that Gibson didn’t drink until his final years.

After Jackie Robinson signed, his sister said:

“This was just about the time he started having dizzy spells and blackouts. He also became a heavy drinker.”

The dizzy spells, said Page, caused him to “stagger and stumble, whenever he looked up,” and “Josh’s drinking was a symptom of his affliction. He knew his time was short and that he’d never get a break in the majors…He tried to submerge his misfortune in drink.”

Smith closed:

:”The deadly curse that had been upon Josh Gibson all his life finally claimed him…Eighty days later Jackie Robinson became the first Negro player in modern big league history.

“That was 23 years ago.

“Josh Gibson should be immortalized in Cooperstown.

“What price, Hall of Fame?”

Less than a year later, Gibson was enshrined along with Buck Leonard; Smith died nine months later, he was 58. He was awarded the JG Taylor Spink Award 21 years after his death.

“An Awkward Bunch of Monkeys”

24 Dec

Arlie Latham was the oldest living former major leaguer in 1951—the 91-year-old made his major league debut 71 years earlier.

Will Grimsley of The Associated Press tracked down “The Freshest Man of Earth” and had him pick his all-time all-star team:

“(Latham) has seen them all from Cap Anson right down to Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial.

“’It is tough picking this team,’ said the thin, bent old infielder of baseball’s cradle days, whose memory is still razor-sharp. ‘There are so many good players—so many, especially today.”

Unlike many 19th Century veterans, Latham only selected three players whose careers began before 1900. He said:

“I think the players today are far better than back in the old times. Why, on the whole there is no comparison. Where we had one or two stars on a team back then today every man has to be standout to hold his position.”

Latham at 91

Latham’s team:

P: Cy Young, Rube Waddell, Carl Hubbell, Christy Mathewson

C: Bill Dickey

1B: Bill Terry

2B; Frankie Frisch

#B: Pie Traynor

SS: Honus Wagner

OF Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio

Latham called Cobb, “the greatest all-around player there was.”

He gave Terry the nod over Lou Gehrig because “he was a smoother fielder.”

Buck Ewing was the only catcher “he’d mention in the same breath” as Dickey.

He said “it was hard” to keep Walter Johnson off.

Of his own career, Latham said:

“I was the best man of my day at getting out of the way of a hard-hit ball.”

Arlie Latham

He called the players of his era, “an awkward bunch of monkeys.”

Latham died the following year at age 92.

“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

hughes

Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

rice.jpg

Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

bugspix

Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

“That Shows how a Baseball Player’s Mind Works Sometimes”

20 Apr

Associated Press (AP) reporter Paul Mickelson spoke with New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, “In the spacious reception room of his big brewery on Third Avenue,” in February of 1937.  The subject; Ruppert’s complaint about the “unreasonable demands” of his players, specifically Lou Gehrig and Lefty Gomez whom the “owner aimed punch after punch.”

ruppert

Jacob Ruppert

Ruppert said Gehrig and Gomez had cost the Yankees the pennant in 1935 because of their post season barnstorming tour of Japan:

“’Gehrig comes to my office contract in hand and says he ought to get more than $31,000 next season.’ The Colonel opened up on his star first baseman.  ‘He doesn’t say a word about his poor season in 1935 when he got $31,000 too.  He doesn’t mention that he made more than $6000 in the World Series.  All he could remember is what he did (in 1936).

“So, I told him about it, refreshed his memory.  I told him we were just getting back some of the money we lost in the lean years and that if he and Gomez hadn’t gone to Japan we would have won the 1935 pennant.  He hasn’t much to say but he leaves his contract.  Hmph.”

During his “poor season” in 1935, Gehrig hit .329 with 30 home runs and 120 RBI.

gehrig

Gehrig

He then turned his attention to Gomez, who followed his great 26-5 2.33ERA season with a 1215 3.18 ERA in 1935 after the Japan trip after his second straight sub par season in 1936 (13-7 4.39), Gomez’ salary was cut from $20,000 to $13,500:

“’And Gomez.  He’s got a lot of nerve saying we offered him a bat boy’s salary.  He’s lucky we didn’t cut him worse than we did.  After he got back from Japan, he couldn’t pitch up a dark alley.  He did a poor job in ’35 and not much better last season.  Still we paid him well. Hmph.”

 

gomez

Gomez

Ruppert wasn’t finished, and next directed his wrath at Jake Powell.  Powell was acquired by the Yankees from the Washington Senators in June of 1936, and hit .302 with New York, and led the Yankees with a .455 average in the World Series:

“’He beats them all,’ said the colonel.  ‘He calls my attention to the number of hits he made in the World Series.  That’s a laugh.  On that basis, what about poor (Bill) Dickey?  He made only three hits to Powell’s 10.  I suppose then, I should pay Powell three times as much as I pay Dickey.  That shows how a baseball player’s mind works sometimes.”

Powell got a raise to $9000 for the 1937 season.

Ruppert finished the interview with his favorite story from the 1936 series.  Catcher Bill Dickey hit .120.  Rupert said Dickey approached him in his box before one at bat:

“’Rub this bat for me Mr. Rupert,’ he said.  ‘Then I’ll hit a home run sure.’

“’Bill went up to bat with blood in his eyes,’ laughed the colonel.  “And struck out.’”

Gomez continued his holdout until March 5 when he accepted his pay cut, Gehrig signed March 18, The AP reported that he signed for $36,000; Gehrig had asked for $40,000.