David Bruce: Baseball Anecdotes

Baseball great Satchel Paige was born LeRoy Robert Page on July 7, 1906, in Mobile, Alabama. His last name acquired an extra ‘i’ to make it fancier; after all, he said, “Page is just something you find in a book.” He acquired the nickname “Satchel” after discovering that he could make money by carrying the satchels of travelers down at the local railway station. After making a dime carrying his first satchel, he figured that he could make more money faster by creating a contraption made from rope and a pole that allowed him to carry four satchels at one time. The other children in the neighborhood said that when he was using the contraption he looked like a satchel tree, and so “Satchel” became his nickname. As an adult athlete, he carried a satchel of his own, which he filled with various lotions to keep his pitching arm in good shape. (According to one story, in 1935, in Bismarck, North Dakota, some Sioux Native Americans gave him some rattlesnake oil. He used it on his pitching arm and liked the heat that it brought to his arm muscles, and so rattlesnake oil became one of the lotions that he carried with him.) He also carried a catcher’s mitt in his satchel. When a reporter asked why he carried the catcher’s mitt, Satchel replied, “I never know when I’m going to come across a little boy who wants to play catch.”

Ty Cobb was a fierce competitor who has often been called the most hated man in baseball. As an example of his competitiveness, long after he had retired from baseball, he talked with fellow major-league player Jay Justin “Nig” Clarke (a white catcher), who reminisced, “I had pretty fast hands. I brought them down mighty fast in plays at home plate. In fact, many a time the umpire called a runner out even though I never tagged him. Why, there must have been a dozen times when I missed you, Ty, but you were called out.” Ty grabbed Nig by the throat and shouted, “Twelve runs you cost me that I earned!” It took three men to pull Ty off Nig. However, Ty’s children remembered him as being kind and considerate. His youngest son, James, remembers returning home as an Army sergeant in World War II. His father met him on a San Francisco dock with milk and doughnuts, saying, “Here. I know how much you enjoy this.” James says, “He knew how much I enjoyed cold milk. It was a simple gesture of thoughtfulness, but it’s something I’ll never forget.” Ty was as good at investing money as he had been at playing baseball. He built a hospital in Royston, Georgia, in honor of his parents, and he endowed a scholarship fund for college students.

In 1943, Yogi Berra started playing minor-league baseball at a salary of $90 per month in Norfolk, Virginia. Discouraged by the low salary, he went on a hunger strike before a game, claiming that $90 per month was not enough for him to eat on. (In fact, his mother sometimes gave him extra money.) His manager, Shaky Kain, gave him $2. Yogi filled up on hamburgers and then played. By the way, the nickname “Yogi” came from a movie that childhood friend Jack Macguire saw about a Hindu yogi. Jack thought that his teammate Larry (Yogi’s real name was Lawrence Peter Berra) resembled the yogi, and so Larry received the nickname he made famous. Yogi was well liked in the minor leagues, as well as in the major leagues. While playing with the Newark Bears in the International League, Yogi roomed with third-baseman Bobby Brown, who was studying medicine and who became a physician. Once, Yogi finished the comic book he was reading at the same time that Bobby closed the medical textbook that he was studying. Yogi asked, “How’d your book turn out?”

Willie Mays got off to a poor batting start as a major-league player, hitting .040 in his first 25 at-bats. New York Giants manager Leo Durocher saw him crying after one of those games because he doubted his ability to hit major-league pitching. Mr. Durocher told him, “As long as I’m manager of the Giants, you’re my center fielder. You’re the greatest ballplayer I ever saw or ever hope to see.” Mr. Durocher’s confidence in Mr. Mays paid off. Mr. Mays began to hit, and he ended his major-league career with 660 home runs. Mr. Durocher once said about Mr. Mays, “If he could cook, I’d marry him.” By the way, Mr. Mays was known for giving fans a thrill by playing all out, often running so hard that he lost his hat. (Later in life, he admitted that he deliberately wore a hat that was one size too big so that it would easily come off.)

Shoeless Joe Jackson got his nickname after playing a baseball game in his socks because his shoes were blistering his feet. His bat, which he had carved and stained himself, also had a good nickname: Black Betsy. (Black Betsy weighed about 48 ounces, and was 36 inches long, making it a big, heavy bat indeed.) All his life, Shoeless Joe was illiterate. His wife, Betsy, read his contracts to him. Whenever anyone gave him a document that he had to sign, he would say, “Leave it and come back tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to sleep on it.” When ordering a meal in restaurants with his teammates, Shoeless Joe would let his other teammates order first. When someone ordered something he liked, he would say, “That sounds good. I’ll have the same.”

George Moriarty was umpiring behind home plate when Jimmy Foxx swung at two pitches and missed and then was called for a third strike. Mr. Foxx was angry and told Mr. Moriarty, “You missed [the call] on that one.” Mr. Moriarty replied, “You missed the other two.”

Beans Reardon called a batter out on strikes, and the batter argued with him. Beans listened to the jawing for a while, and then he told the batter, “No matter what you think, when you pick up your paper tomorrow morning, you will still find that you struck out.”

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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