Baseball Legends Revealed #29

This is the twenty-ninth in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.

Let’s begin!

BASEBALL LEGEND: Ted Williams had an infamously cocky response as a rookie when told how he could learn from watching the great Jimmie Foxx hit.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

As the story goes, when Ted Williams went to the Boston Red Sox training camp in the spring of 1938, either a sportswriter or Williams’ former teammate on the San Diego Padres (then a minor league team), Bobby Doerr, said to Williams, “Wait until you see Jimmie Foxx hit.” The 19-year-old Williams replied, “Wait ’til Foxx sees me hit.”

It almost perfectly encapsulates the unbridled cockiness that Ted Williams certainly DID possess. It’s so perfect that it was being quoted in Time Magazine for a piece on Williams as soon as 1946.

But did it actually happen?

I lean towards no.

First off, and probably most importantly, Williams denies that it happened. Back when he was a player he denied saying it, after he retired he denied saying it and all the way up until his death he denied saying it. He never denied that it WAS the sort of attitude he had, just that he did not actually say it.

Secondly, Williams was always an admirer of Foxx, who had just won the Most Valuable Player award in 1937. All during his early years in the big leagues he would talk about how he admired Foxx, especially how he wished he had muscles like Foxx.

He even wrote home during that training camp to talk about how impressed he was by Foxx! Williams was not someone to compliment someone just for the sake of being nice. If Williams said something nice about you, you could take it to heart. He was never one to mince words. It does not sound right that he would take a shot at someone that he so openly admired at the time.

Thirdly, Williams has been extremely upfront with admitting to a number of cocky things he DID say at the time. In particular, the resident members of the Red Sox outfield (Doc Cramer, Joe Vosmik and Ben Chapman) must have known that at least one of them would eventually lose his job to the heralded outfield prospect so the trio had given Williams a hard time in that 1938 training camp (a camp where Williams did not make the team). Williams responded back with an acute harshness, stating that not only would he back the next year for their jobs, but that he would eventually make more money in one year than all three of them combined. Williams has always admitted to saying that, plus a number of other odd things during that first training camp (like calling Manager Joe Cronin “sport” all throughout camp and generally putting out a less than professional attitude, something he regretted later in life). So I don’t see Williams admitting to all these different things but denying the Foxx quote – unless he actually HADN’T said it.

Fourthly, like many stories that might not be true, the tale has been told in many different fashions over the years. Many versions tell it as a sportswriter talking to Williams. I’ve seen a few where the sportswriter is even identified as Al Horwitz. One version of the story has Horwitz talking to Williams on a train on the way to training camp discussing hitting. A few versions of the story have it as a veteran member of the Red Sox talking to Williams. The most popular one, though, is Bobby Doerr, who was a young member of the team himself (only 20 years old at the time). Even Bobby Doerr, though, who insists to this day that it DID happen, has told the story in at least two different versions, with one version ending with the standard “Wait ’til Foxx sees me hit” while another version one ends with “Wait ’til they see me hit.” It’s not a gigantic difference, but it’s a big enough difference that I could see Williams disputing the former and perhaps not disputing the latter, as the former is a shot at Foxx while the latter is more of a general piece of cockiness.

Put it all together and I think it’s most likely that Williams did not, in fact, say the quote.

Oh, and by the way, in 1939, Williams made the team for good – Ben Chapman was the odd man out, being traded to the Cleveland Indians in the offseason, and by the time Williams’ career was over he did, in fact, make more in one year than the other three players combined. If you’re going to talk trash, I guess it is best to at least back it up.

Thanks to My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life, by Ted Williams and John Underwood, for Williams’ take on the quote (as well as his other quotes about that 1938 training camp).

BASEBALL LEGEND: A baseball player forgot to pack his uniform for his appearance in the All-Star Game!

STATUS: True

The 1985 All-Star Game was, at the time, a fairly routine All-Star Game from the 1970s and 80s, in that it was a National League victory (their THIRTEENTH in the last FOURTEEN All-Star Games at the time!).

However, while the American League team was not victorious, in retrospect, their team that day was historic.

Of the eight position players starting the All-Star Game for the American League that year, a stunning SEVEN of them were later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame!

Eddie Murray was at first base, Cal Ripken was at shortstop, George Brett was at third, Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield were in the outfield and Carlton Fisk was behind the plate – Hall of Famers all. Heck, the starting pitcher for the American League even has a chance of eventual enshrinement, as the pitcher, Jack Morris, received over 50% of the vote this past election (you need 75% to get elected – Morris has five more years to get that extra 25%).

Comparatively, the National League team that same year had only two Hall of Famers on it (Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith).

And perhaps the most shocking thing is that the only American League position player on the team who ISN’T in the Hall of Fame probably has a decent case FOR being a Hall of Famer (or at least being considered)!

That player is Lou Whitaker, the longtime second baseman for the Detroit Tigers.

whitaker1985allstar1

Whitaker ended up with 244 homers, 1084 runs batted in, 1386 runs scored and 2369 hits. Those are some pretty amazing numbers for a second baseman! And a second baseman who won four Silver Sluggers, was named to five All-Star Games, won a World Series and even won three Gold Gloves (especially impressive when you consider he was a contemporary of Frank White, who won about a gazillion and twelve Gold Gloves during his playing career at second base)!

Even if you don’t think Whitaker ultimately should make it, the fact that he did not even last more than a single season on the Hall of Fame ballot is an utter joke. Not even 5% of the voters felt that he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame? Ridiculous.

Anyhow, I’m getting away from the point of this story.

Okay, so Whitaker started in the 1985 All-Star Game (held in Minnesota) at second base. However, on the way from Detroit to the game, Whitaker accidentally forgot his uniform and glove in his car at the airport!

Not a big deal, you would think – just have someone messenger him an emergency one, right? That’s what Whitaker thought, as well.

However, after having an emergency uniform and glove sent to him – the uniform and glove were lost in transit on the way to Minnesota!!

So it now being the day of the game, Whitaker had to basically do whatever he could do – so he went to the various vendors for the game and ended up purchasing a replica Tigers jersey and a replica Tigers baseball hat. The jersey had no uniform number on it, so he drew his number “1″ on the back with magic marker colored into a stencil! He used a Cleveland Indians batting helmet and he borrowed a glove from Cal Ripken.

Here’s pictures of the uniform, from Paul Lukas’ always wonderful UniWatch blog

How cheap does that shirt look?

To make matters worse, he went 0-2 in the game.

The Smithsonian later asked for Whitaker’s jersey, and he donated it to them, and I presume they still have it somewhere.

Pretty funny, huh?

Also, to recap – Lou Whitaker is awesome!

BASEBALL LEGEND: A baseball player was not selected for the All-Star Game even though he had over 100 runs batted in at the All-Star Break and his own manager/teammate was picking the team!!

STATUS: True

This is fun – TWO Detroit Tiger-related All-Star legends in one week! And this one is even tangentially related to the Ted Williams legend, as well (well, Jimmie Foxx is involved, at least)!

Hank Greenberg was one of the most dominant hitters in Major League history. Think Albert Pujols the past nine seasons, or Frank Thomas in his first nine seasons. That’s how good Greenberg was (and, like Pujols and Thomas, he was a first baseman). Although he had a relatively short career, he still put up big-time numbers and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.

But as great of a player as he was in his heyday, he still had a bit of a problem standing out.

You see,at the same time Greenberg was lighting up the ballparks as a 24 year old in 1935, two OTHER first basemen were doing similar things in the American League, and both of the other players were ALREADY famous. One of them is the aforementioned Jimmie Foxx, who won the American League MVP Award in 1932 and 1933 (he was three years older than Greenberg). The other was Lou Gehrig, the famed Iron Horse of the New York Yankees, who had four years on Foxx, and had won the MVP in 1927 and come in second in 1931 and 1932.

So when the All-Star Game was introduced in 1933 (initially intended as a one-time event), Gehrig was the starting first baseman and Foxx had to settle for a reserve spot (even though, as I noted, Foxx won the MVP that year). That first year, the managers for the game were Connie Mack and John McGraw (McGraw came out of retirement for the event). When the game became an annual tradition in 1934, so, too, did the tradition begin of the manager of the previous year’s pennant-winning club choosing the players for that season’s All-Star Game (it would not be until after World War II that the fans began to get a vote).

In 1935, that manager was Detroit Tiger manager/player Mickey Cochrane (as the Tigers had lost to the Cardinals in the World Series the year before)….

Well, at the All-Star Break, Greenberg had 103 runs batted in, an “at the All-Star Break” record that stands to this day (I think Juan Gonzalez came the closest to it in 1998, with, like, 101 or 102 ribbies).

However, Cochrane felt that Foxx and Gehrig both deserved it over Greenberg, so Cochrane repeated the strategy the previous year’s manager, Joe Cronin, employed, which was to have Foxx play out of position at third base and have Gehrig play first.

You still would have thought Cochrane would have managed to find a spot for Greenberg, as he DID select other back-up position players (all the teams were represented, so that wasn’t an issue), including a back-up third baseman (Ossie Bluege, who also backed up second and short). However, the rosters WERE a lot smaller at the time, so perhaps Cochrane felt he needed a back-up who could play multiple positions?

Of course, Cochrane also had to carry a third catcher because, naturally, he chose himself to be on the team and he decided not to play, so he needed a back-up catcher (Cochrane was a Hall of Fame catcher, and he had an amazing year in 1935 so he certainly deserved the honor, it’s just weird to see him snub his outstanding teammate at the same time).

The next year, Greenberg was hurt so he made Cochrane’s (picking again as the Tigers won the 1935 World Series) pick easy.

The following year, Yankees’ skipper Joe McCarthy gave Greenberg his first All-Star appearance (they also expanded the roster in 1937, so that certainly did not hurt). Well, I should probably put appearance in quotes, as Greenberg did not get an at-bat in the game.

He was so irked by the whole situation that when McCarthy picked him again the next year, he refused to show up (that year, by the way, McCarthy played Foxx over his own player, Gehrig).

The next year, though, Greenberg was chosen as a starter and he showed up to play in the game! He batted fifth and went 1 for 3 in an American League victory.

Being easily the most famous Jewish ballplayer there was at the time, it was quite an honor to finally be accepted by his peers as the best first baseman out there!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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10 Responses to “Baseball Legends Revealed #29”

  1. With regards to Cal Ripken Jr, I seem to recall reading a story awhile ago that suggested he did not play all of those consecutive games, but rather that some of the games in the streak were actually played by his brother Billy.
    The story was that Cal was under the weather and Billy subbed in for him a few times, wearing his uniform and playing shortstop (I think this was supposed to be fairly early in Cal’s career). I do know that both played for the Orioles together for awhile (and I believe they were managed by their father Cal Ripken Sr.)
    I’m not sure where I heard the story, it’s possible i made it up because i haven’t subsequently found anything to substantiate it. Any thoughts.

  2. Wow, I’m a huge Tigers fan, but that’s the first time I’ve heard the Whitaker All-Star Game story.

  3. The story was that Cal was under the weather and Billy subbed in for him a few times, wearing his uniform and playing shortstop (I think this was supposed to be fairly early in Cal’s career). I do know that both played for the Orioles together for awhile (and I believe they were managed by their father Cal Ripken Sr.)
    I’m not sure where I heard the story, it’s possible i made it up because i haven’t subsequently found anything to substantiate it. Any thoughts.

    That’s a ridiculous “legend”.

    Ridiculous because managers, players, umpires and fans would easily be able to tell the difference between Cal Ripken Jr and his brother Billy. Cal Ripken was 3 inches taller than him and at least 20 pounds heavier, and they really don’t look like each other.

    That’s like thinking Michael Jordan could pass for Karl Malone.

  4. I didn’t say it was reasonable, I just remember reading it. There’s holes in the whole thing: why would Cal Ripken need someone to sub him in to preserve a streak that had barely started. I don’t know if it’s quite as extreme as the michael jordan/karl malone example as there is definitely some family resemblance.
    I’m just trying to figure out where the idea came from, outside of my fevered brain.

  5. I can’t find any evidence for the Ripken rumor even existing, which is disconcerting in that it means i probably made it up at some point. I could’ve sworn i read it in the newspaper around 2001-2002. Isn’t it nice to doubt your own sanity?
    I did however find a lovely story about cal ripken and kevin costner
    http://umpbump.com/press/2008/04/14/ripken-talks-about-the-kevin-costner-myth-without-actually-talking-about-it/

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