William Harold “Bill” Terry was a superior first baseman in the 1920s and 1930s and one of baseball’s premier managers in the 1930s. Born in Atlanta on October 30, 1898, he had an unsettled childhood. His parents suffered through an unhappy marriage, finally separating when he was in his mid-teens. Terry was essentially on his own from that point on, his natural independence enhanced by the need to care for himself at such a young age.
In 1913, when Terry was 15, he looked and acted much older, and he was extremely strong for his age. He obtained a job in the railyard yards in Atlanta, loading heavy flour sacks onto trucks. In his spare time, he played sandlot baseball when he was not rooting for the hometown Crackers, of the Southern Association. Terry could not afford to pay for entrance into the games, so he viewed many games from trees outside the wooden outfield fence.
Terry’s played his first recorded game in Atlanta in a Sunday School league. His team performed so poorly that the 13-year-old Terry was inserted into his first game as a left-handed second baseman. Shortly after, the strong-armed youngster was inserted into the lineup as a pitcher. Although his control was poor, he had a live fastball and the Crackers signed him in 1914. But, perhaps because of his youth, he did not pitch in a game even though some baseball men had become aware of his potential. Terry had heard that St. Louis Browns Manager Branch Rickey had some interest in him and that Rickey might offer him a contract. But Rickey decided against it.
Some time before the 1915 season, Terry fell in love with an Atlanta girl. Her name was Elvena Virginia Sneed and she was as bright, confident, and strong-willed as Terry. The attraction was so strong that the two teenagers mapped out their future together. Terry talked optimistically about his baseball career, telling Elvena of the comfortable life of the successful player. They agreed to marry as soon as possible.
In the spring of 1915, the Crackers farmed Terry out to Dothan, in the Georgia State League. Hampered by poor control, Terry pitched terribly. In June, the Crackers unconditionally released him and he was picked up by Newnan, in the Class D Georgia-Alabama League. Tall and skinny and still under 17, Terry’s control improved dramatically and he pitched very well, including throwing a no-hitter. Terry pitched effectively for Newnan through late July 16, 1916 when his contract was sold to Shreveport, in the Texas League. He became a Shreveport favorite, pitching effectively and hitting powerfully when playing first base.
Terry was pleased to move to Shreveport, especially as it brought him closer to Elvena who had moved to Memphis when her father was transferred there. After the season, Terry lived with the Sneed family until November when, at 18, he married Elvena. The newlyweds spent the 1916-1917 winter in New Orleans and Terrry earned much-needed money playing in exhibition games.
Terry had a discouraging season in 1917 although he remained in the rotation and played sporadically in the outfield. The Little Rock Travelers, managed by veteran baseball man Norman “Kid” Elberfeld, purchased his contract from Shreveport in the spring of 1918. With U.S. participation in World War 1 escalating, and with Elvena pregnant, Terry quit baseball and took a job with a storage battery company in Memphis.
A short time later Terry took a job with Standard Oil of Louisiana’s office in Memphis as a clerk and later he was promoted to a sales position with the company. Many companies in that era fielded semipro baseball teams and Terry formed a company team, the Standard Oil Polarines. The team played on weekends with Terry directing the club but not playing until 1920, its second season. It is of interest that Terry became a player-manager in 1920, usually playing first base and occasionally taking a turn on the mound. He pitched fairly regularly in 1921.
The Polarines played a game near Little Rock and Terry pitched very effectively. Kid Elberfeld, still managing the Little Rock club, was impressed by Terry’s performance. He told Memphis Chicks Owner Tom Watkins about Terry’s pitching and hitting potential and Watkins passed along the information to his old friend, New York Giants Manager John McGraw, about this “big, swell-looking fellow.” The Giants were passing through Memphis on April 1 on their way north to open the 1922 season. And so Watkins arranged for Terry to meet McGraw at his hotel.
As prominent New York sportswriter Frank Graham described the meeting in his book McGraw of the Giants: “(McGraw) noted the easy grace with which Terry moved, the size of his hands, the strength of his grip….(He asked), ‘How’d you like to come to New York with me to play with the Giants, maybe?’
Terry answered, ‘For how much?’
McGraw looked at Terry sharply. ‘Do you understand what I’m offering you? I’m offering you a chance to play for the Giants–if you’re good enough.’
Terry answered, ‘I’ll tell you how I feel about it, Mr. McGraw, because I don’t want you to misunderstand me and think I’m just a swell-headed clown. I’m not. But I’m doing all right here. I quit the Southern League because I got tired of tramping around the country with a minor league ball club, and I was married and had a baby and I wanted to setttle down some place….I have a nice home and I’m in no hurry to leave either my job or my home. If I can make more money going to New York, I’ll go….As I told you before, the Giants don’t mean anything to me. And remember: I didn’t come up here looking for a job. I came only because Tom Watkins said you wanted to talk to me.’”
And that effectively was the end of Terry’s visit. McGraw was stunned, never having been talked to that way by any other unestablished young player. Still, he had to admire Terry for his forthrightness. He decided to call Terry after the Giants were in New York.
McGraw called Terry a month later and invited him to join the Giants. McGraw agreed to pay his asking price of $800 a month. Terry arrived in New York a few days later. After McGraw observed the young man working out, he was not impressed by his pitching but he liked Terry’s hitting. A few days later Terry was optioned to Toledo, retaining his healthy salary, and he remained with the Mud Hens for the remainder of the 1922 season. He pitched for a few weeks but he played first base for the rest of the season and hit impressively.
Terry returned to Toledo in 1923 and continued his powerful hitting. He suffered a setback on May 5, breaking an ankle sliding into second base, but he returned to the lineup six weeks later without missing a beat. In his When The Giants Were Giants, Peter Williams wrote: “On June 29, (Terry) hit a shot longer than any previous homer in the Indianapolis park and reportedly it was the first time anybody had cleared the scoreboard in a regulation game….In fact, Terry was more a slugger in his Toledo days than he would be again.”
Terry, with his experience as a pitcher and hitter, was appointed player-manager of the Toledo club on August 1. Six weeks later, Terry left the Mud Hens for a family funeral and he joined the Giants on his return. For the year, he hit .377, which almost brought him the American Association batting title. Terry played in three games for the Giants with his first major league hit coming on October 1 against Boston Braves right-hander Jesse Barnes.
Terry played very little in the first half of the 1924 season. Backing up regular first baseman George “Highpockets” Kelly, Terry played in 35 games, hitting a low .239. Terry (now often referred to by the writers as “Memphis Bill”)was a lefthand-hitting alternative to the righthand-hitting Kelly. Terry gave a splendid World Series performance as the Giants lost to the Washington Senators in seven games. Terry led all regular players on both teams with a .429 batting average and gained the distinction of being the hitter whom the great Walter Johnson admitted he least wanted to face.
Terry’s improvement continued in 1925. McGraw moved George Kelly to second base and installed Terry as the regular first baseman. He played in 126 games and hit .319. Memphis Bill was still learning as a fielder but he became an even more powerful straightaway hitter; for example,on May 10 he hit a colossal triple almost to the Polo Grounds centerfield clubhouse, measured at 462 feet.
Terry was traditionally a hard bargainer in contract negotiations with the Giants. He was the last Giants player to sign in 1925 and he held out again in 1926. As he had told McGraw at their first meeting in 1922, Terry told writers that he knew how much he was worth and that he didn’t need baseball to make a living. Terry had already been financially successful in buying and renting out properties during the offseason.
Terry’s performance slipped in 1926. McGraw’s reasoning was unclear, but he moved Kelly back to first base and Terry played part-time, never regaining his 1925 groove and hitting only .289. But, still young at 28, he regained his old touch in 1927. He had become a completely accomplished first baseman; some baseball men felt he was the best fielding first baseman in the National League. And he had a breakthrough season at the plate, hitting .326 with 121 RBIs. Terry played at that high level for the next eight years, despite the tension of playing for the irascible McGraw. Terry had his signature season in 1930 with 254 hits and a .403 batting average, the last .400 average to date by a National League player.
John McGraw was widely considered the best major league manager from his early days as the Giants’ dominating field boss in the early 1900s through the early 1920s. The iron-fisted McGraw often called every pitch thrown by his pitchers. But beginning after his last pennant win in 1924, he became more of an irritant to his players than an inspiring leader. He lost his even limited ability to accept the unavoidable ups and downs all baseball managers face. He found it difficult to put up with players who resisted his restrictions and demands. His health deteriorated and he needed more days away from his team. His players had begun to feel that what formerly had been his passionate intensity to win had been adversely affected by his frustration, anger, and erratic managing.
The independent Terry and third baseman Freddie Lindstrom were the leaders of the unhappy Giants. Terry couldn’t abide some of McGraw’s dictatorial decisions with the unhappy acceptance of other players who weren’t as gainfully employed as Terry during the off season. In his Super Stars of Baseball, Bob Broeg wrote of the time that McGraw castigated Terry mercilessly after Terry’s error contributed to a tough loss. Terry took the tirade temporarily, then responded to McGraw furiously, “You’ve been blaming other people for the mistakes you have made for 30 years.” After that exchange, the men did not speak to each other for two years. Many years later, Terry told Broeg, “I’d like to think in that stubborn, uncomfortable period, I tried even harder.”
Terry was a handsome, slightly stooped man. In his prime, he was 6-2 and weighed well over 200 pounds; good-sized for his era, but graceful and extremely fast for his size. (He held his own in foot races with speedy teammates). In the batters box, Terry stood with his feet close together and his arms held close to his body. A lefthand hitter, he tended to smash line drives to left center and straightaway center rather than pull drives down the short right field line. For this reason, he did not take advantage of the bathtub-shaped Polo Grounds with its short fences down the lines and extremely deep centerfield. Terry claimed that he was a pull hitter early in his career but that McGraw inexplicably wanted him to hit to the opposite field. Many of Terry’s contemporaries, his high batting averages notwithstanding, felt he would have been be an even more potent offensive force if he took advantage of the short right field foul line as his teammate Mel Ott did.
The Giants finished well out of the National League lead from 1925 through 1931 despite the presence of a number of future Hall of Famers, among them Terry, Rogers Hornsby, George Kelly, Freddie Lindstrom, Mel Ott, Travis Jackson, and Carl Hubbell. And in 1932, McGraw’s club was dead last after 40 games. On June 3, the Giants’ doubleheader with the Phillies at the Polo Grounds was rained out. The New York World-Telegram’s Tom Meany headed for the Giants’ clubhouse in search of a story with no idea that he was falling into the biggest exclusive in many years in New York. A vendor told Meany that McGraw (who would die less than two years later) had resigned and been replaced by Bill Terry. A Giants coach confirmed the story. Terry indeed was the new player-manager.
McGraw had called Terry into his office that morning. Terry had not spoken to McGraw during the previous two years. He recalled to Bob Broeg, “I thought he was going to tell me I’d been traded.” Instead McGraw said, “Bill, you don’t have to answer this now. Wait a while if you like, but would you like to manage the Giants?” With characteristic decisiveness, Terry responded, “There’s no need for me to wait. I’ll take it now.”
Terry took over with the clear understanding that he was the boss and not a stand-in for McGraw who had became a front-man for the Giants. Assured of this, Terry began to plan the moves he considered necessary to revitalize the Giants. Even without any player changes, Terry succeeded in raising the club from last place to a sixth-place tie with the Cardinals. In the offseason, Terry traded with the Cardinals for catcher Gus Mancuso, anticipating the short, stocky Mancuso would help Giants pitchers get the benefit of low strike calls. Freddie Lindstrom had to be traded, despite his great ability and long-time friendship with Terry, because of Lindstrom’s disappointment at not getting the managerial slot. Terry stressed his desire for stricter control of his players’ extracurricular pursuits and, unlike the free-wheeling McGraw, a close-mouthed attitude on the part of his players toward the press.
On paper, the Giant club which began spring training at Los Angeles was not considered a pennant contender. The team had only four proven stars–rightfielder Mel Ott, Terry himself, and pitchers Carl Hubbell and Freddy Fitzsimmons. Ott, beginning his eighth full season at a youthful 24, was one of the premier sluggers and outfielders in the game. Terry remained the best first basemen in the National League. Hubbell with his reverse curve “screwball” had been among the best pitchers in the league, along with Fitzsimmons, a knuckleballing righthander.
There were several other experienced players in camp. Round-faced Sam Leslie was a good-hitter, mediocre-fielding first baseman. Veteran second baseman Hughie Critz was a skilled fielder. Johnny Vergez was a steady, but injury prone, third baseman. George “Kiddo” Davis was a decent centerfielder but only a fair hitter. And outfielder Joe Moore, a rail-thin, hollow-cheeked Texan had been with the Giants for two years without notable success.Terry was particularly high on Hal Schumacher, a sinker ball throwing righthander. LeRoy “Tarzan” Parmelee was a flame-throwing righthander, so nicknamed because of his wildness. Cuban Adolfo Luque was a wily 43-year-old righthander whose major league career dated back to 1919 when he pitched for Cincinnati. And with longtime star shortstop Travis Jackson hobbled by severe knee problems, Terry relied upon journeyman Blondy Ryan.
The Giants were a pleasant surprise in the first quarter of the season, in third place on Memorial Day. Terry was on the bench with a broken wrist but his emphasis on pitching and defense paid off in a season when the National League employed a deadened baseball. Hubbell, Fitzsimmons, Schumacher, and Parmelee rotated starting assignments and the all-purpose Hubbell and Luque excelled in relief. Ott led the attack and Moore was a proficient leadoff man and superb leftfielder. A season highlight came on July 2 in a doubleheader win over the Cardinals with Hubbell pitching an incredible 18 scoreless innings to win the first game. The writers covering the Giants began to refer to Hubbell as Terry’s “Meal Ticket.”
Before another exciting doubleheader with the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds on August 27, the fans had yet to warm to Terry, who had an apparently cool, unemotional demeanor. With the Giants leading 4-1 in the eighth inning, Cardinals player-manager Frankie Frisch bounced a “Baltimore Chop” towards first base. Terry grabbed the ball and arrived at the bag simultaneous with the headlong-diving Frisch. Umpire Ted McGrew called Frisch safe and Terry uncharacteristically lost his composure. Terry charged McGrew, who emphatically threw Terry out of the game. Terry responded by firing his cap and glove to the ground and kicking them vigorously.
After 15 minutes during which fans threw pop bottles onto the field, McGrew ejected peacemakers rightfielder Ott and Giants coach Tom Clarke and permitted Terry to stay in the game. Terry had calmed down sufficiently to talk McGrew into permitting him to stay in the game (claiming that he was the manager and the only available first baseman) but that Ott and Clarke would have to go instead. As John Kieran of the New York Times wrote, “The (Giants) won a real victory when the fans stood up and roared approval of Memphis Bill’s explosion. They never knew that he cared. He lost the decision, but he won his spurs. The Old Guard among the Giant rooters had fallen in behind him.”
The Giants went on to win the pennant in five games. The key factors were Terry’s effectiveness as a defensive leader and Hubbell’s 23 wins, 10 shutouts, and 1.66 ERA. The Giants faced the Washington Senators, led by shortstop-manager Joe Cronin. Hubbell won the first game 4-2, supported by Ott’s 4-for-4 performance, and 3 RBI. Schumacher won the second game and, after a loss to the Senators in the third game, Hubbell won again as Terry homered to tie the fourth game and Blondy Ryan won it with an eleventh inning hit. Ott homered in the tenth inning of the fifth game to win the Series.
Terry was atop the baseball world as he and his quietly efficient club celebrated their upset championship. He had converted the disorganized club he inherited from McGraw into a well-integrated, unselfish team. His managing responsibilities did not inhibit Terry’s field performance as he hit .322, fifth best in the League. And, to top off a great season, the Giants rewarded Terry with a five-year contract at $40,000 a year, equalling McGraw’s best salary.
Terry attended the annual business meetinngs in New York in January 1934. He was asked about the Brooklyn Dodgers’ prospects in the coming season. Terry answered, “I haven’t heard anything from them; are they still in the league? Terry, not known for his subtlety, had answered lightly, but the next day’s sports pages indicated that he had been taken seriously. Irate Dodgers fans sent thousands of angry letters to the Giants’ office, assuring Terry that their team would show him whether Brooklyn was still in the league!
The Giants played well early in the 1934 season, leading the league on July 4. They were carried by the steady pitching of Hubbell, Fitzsimmons, and Schumacher; peppery, solid play by newly-acquired shortstop Dick Bartell; and timely hitting by Terry, Ott, and Moore. The All-Star break, with Terry managing the National League in the Polo Grounds, is remembered for Hubbell’s classic feat of striking out consecutively Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmy Foxx. With his screwball working to perfection, in the following inning Hubbell struck out the next two sluggers, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin and, after permitting a hit to Bill Dickey, struck out pitcher Lefty Gomez.
The Giants’ lead disappeared in late September as Terry’s weary club slumped badly, entering the final two games of the season with the Dodgers, tied with the famed Gashouse Gang Cardinals, led by Dizzy and Paul Dean, Frankie Frisch and Joe Medwick. With the rain-swept Polo Grounds jammed with screaming and taunting Brooklyn rooters on Saturday, the slumping Giants lost to the Dodgers’ Van Lingle Mungo, falling a game behind the Cardinals as Paul Dean beat the Reds. To the delight of thousands of Brooklynites, the devastated Giants lost the next day and the Cards took the pennant by two games.
The Giants followed up that disappointment with a less traumatic, but extremely depressing, 1935 season, leading the league by seven games in mid-season but falling before a withering, late-season, 21-game winning streak by the pennant-winning Cubs. Terry’s knees ached badly as he played in every game while the Giants were still in the running but he went down fighting, hitting well over .400 on the Giants’ last western trip and drawing grudging cheers from the rival fans at each stop. The Giants boss took no comfort in his last season as a regular when he hit .341 to tie for fifth in the league in batting average. After the last game, he announced that he was retiring as a player and was planning a drastic housecleaning.
Terry’s most important offseason move was to trade for Cardinals second baseman Burgess Whitehead. He was a fast, agile infielder who would make an excellent double play partner with Dick Bartell. Terry also re-acquired Sam Leslie as his successor at first base.
Before the Giants’ first 1936 appearance at Ebbets Field, Terry requested extra police protection for his players, especially Bartell who was heartily disliked in Brooklyn. The move was considered a means of hyping the money-making feud between his Giants and the Dodgers. On Memorial Day, the Giants surprisingly were only a game behind the league-leading Cardinals as Terry manipulated his troops masterfully. But by the All-Star break, Terry’s club had dropped to fifth place and Terry, still on the player roster, took over at first base for a few games to spell a slumping Leslie. Early in July, Terry had to bow out of the All-Star game after his doctor advised him that his ailing left knee made further play inadvisable.
On July 15, the Giants’ pennant hopes touched bottom. They were 11 games behind the league-leading Cubs after losing the first game of a doubleheader. But they took the second game as Terry, playing against doctor’s orders, led the club with a single, double, and triple. Those heroics, in addition to those of Ott and Hubbell, sparked the club. The Giants won 17 of their next 18 games, moving up to within two games of the first place Cubs, before starting their last western trip. Terry’s inspired club played beautifully on the trip, returning home triumphantly with a four-game lead over the second-place Cardinals. Since July 15, the Giants had won 39 of 47, a cool .830 pace.
The Giants won the pennant by five games. Hubbell, named the MVP, was magnificent. He had 16 consecutive wins as the campaign ended, leading the league with 26 wins. Ott had a great year, leading the league in homers and finishing second with 135 RBIs. Bartell and Whitehead anchored the club’s defense. Terry hit .310 in his last season and he led his club on the field for the last time as the Giants took on the Yankees in the World Series.
On paper, the Giants were no match for the Joe McCarthy-led Yanks who beat the second place Tigers by a whopping 19 1/2 games. The Yanks set a then-major league record with 182 home runs. Five regulars–Lou Gehrig, rookie Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, and George Selkirk–had at least 100 RBS, and Ott was the only Giant to reach that level. And only Hubbell was superior to any Yankees pitcher.
Hubbell won the rain-soaked opener 8-1. Terry’s Meal Ticket had a 2-1 lead in the Yankees’ top of the 8th with the key play a double play started by Whitehead on Joe DiMaggio’s low line drive. A four-run Giants burst in the bottom of that inning put the game away. The Yanks took all suspense out of the second game by wiping out Schumacher and four relievers in an 18-4 romp. In the third game, Fitzsimmons held the Yanks to four hits but he lost 2-1 on a deflected infield hit in the eighth inning.
Hubbell lost the fourth game 5-2 as Lou Gehrig hit a three-run homer. Schumacher won the fifth game 5-4 in an exciting ten-inning game as Terry drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the tenth. And the Yankees took the Series in the last game 13-5 as the outclassed Giants’ pitching staff surrendered 17 hits. Pirates manager Pie Traynor lauded Terry, who had played through the Series as a virtual cripple. Traynor said, “I don’t think any other man in baseball could have finagled the Giants into a World Series. He did well to win a game, let alone two games, against a powerhouse like the Yanks.”
With Terry and Travis Jackson retired, the Giants picked up, among others, lefthander Cliff Melton, utility infielder Lou Chiozza, and fancy-fielding first baseman Johnny McCarthy. The Giants were in second place on Memorial Day, largely on the strength of Hubbell’s continuing winning streak (which ended at 24 on Memorial Day) and Melton’s surprising effectiveness. The 1936 club held its own through June as righthander Clyde Castleman and Schumacher joined Hubbell and Melton in pitching well. Ott recovered from an early season slump to lead the offense along with young outfielder Jimmy Ripple.
By early August, with the Giants seven games off the pace, Terry revamped the lineup. His key move was to replace weak-hitting third baseman Lou Chiozza with Mel Ott to add power to the lineup. Jimmy Ripple took over in right field and Sam Leslie replaced a slumping Johnny McCarthy. The shift worked as the unselfish Ott played a competent third base and Ripple continued to hit. The Giants took over the lead and won the pennant, finishing three games ahead of the Cubs.
Hubbell had another brillant year, leading the league with 22 wins and extending his epic winning streak to 24. Bartell and Whitehead had another stellar season together. And Ott had come back with a strong second half, tieing Joe Medwick for the home run lead with 31. Baseball experts considered the successful switch of Ott to third base, permitting the potent Ripple to play regularly, and Melton’s 20-9 season as the keys to the Giants’ pennant win.
The Giants met the Yanks again with virtually the same result. The Yankees won the first three games easily until Hubbell held the Bombers at bay in the fourth game to win 7-3. Lefty Gomez polished off the Giants in the last game, beating Melton 4-2 and yielding only a two-run homer to Ott. After the game, Terry expressed his admiration for the Yankees. As Joe Williams of the New York World-Telegram wrote: “The turning point of the Series was when the Yanks suited up for the first game.”
Favored to win again in 1938, the Giants started off very well, winning 18 of their first 21 games to take a five game lead over the Cubs. The only problem in sight was at second base where Chiozza replaced Whitehead who missed the season with a variety of ailments. The Giants led the league by three games on July 4 as Terry maneuvered to keep his club on top but, by early August, the club fell off the pace, severely damaged by injuries. Hubbell and Schumacher were lost for the season with bone chips in their throwing arms. The Giants did well to finish in third place. Ott provided the only bright spot, leading the league with 36 home runs and finishing second in RBIs. Defensively, his willingness and ability to shift back and forth between right field and third base gave Terry at least some badly-needed defensive flexibility.
Picked to finish second behind the Reds in 1939, the Giants had their poorest start since Terry took over, although the club rebounded to reach second place at the All-Star break. But, similar to the previous season, Terry’s club slumped badly, finishing in fifth place. And that effectively marked the end of the Giants as a competitive club under Terry.
Second division finishes and reduced attendance the next two years indicated a need for a change. The Giants had become a lackluster club, a situation made worse as the Dodgers improved dramatically under the dynamic leadership of Larry MacPhail and Leo Durocher. It was a good time for Terry to move into the Giants front office, a switch he had long wanted. And so a change was made. Terry became the general manager in charge of farm and scouting operations, and fan favorite Mel Ott became the new Giants manager.
Terry had problems dealing with the media during his managerial career. He was a serious man who recognized early that professional baseball was a serious, often cold-blooded, business with little room for sentiment. As a result, his realistic, unsentimental persona led to frequent difficulties with baseball writers. Those differences were not as apparent in Terry’s successful managerial years from 1932 to 1937. But after the Giants’ field performance deteriorated, Terry was portrayed negatively by writers covering the Giants.
Joe Williams was the writer responsible originally for creating the image of Terry as hostile, cold, and arrogant, partly because Terry wouldn’t give out his home phone number to reporters. It was customary for a baseball manager to provide that information to writers covering his team but Terry insisted on maintaining the separation of his private life from his managerial activities. As Peter Williams (ironically, the son of Joe Williams) wrote in When The Giants Were Giants, “(Joe) Williams would be working at night to make a morning deadline, which meant he might call Terry’s home late, after the kids were asleep. Terry, always protective of his family, kept his number to himself and, when Williams objected, (hard feelings resulted)….”
Westbrook Pegler, writing in the New York Post, also took issue with Terry early on. Terry needled the press after the Giants clinched the pennant in 1933 and Pegler wrote that even though Terry was a “cold man and disinclined to woo the favor of the press” he should not let his success go to his head. Hard feelings continued. Veteran New York writer Tom Meany, upon learning that the money-conscious Terry was raising cattle on his farm, cracked, “I’ll bet he’s got white-faced cattle so he can count their faces at night.” And after Terry traded for first baseman Zeke Bonura before the 1939 season, a writer asked Terry, “What do you think of the trade?” An exasperated Terry responded, “What the hell do you think?? I made the trade!”
Terry contented himself with striking back at resentful writers by making it difficult for them to interview his players. Meany wrote that Terry closed the clubhouse to the press and discouraged the players from talking to writers. Writers had to wait until players showered and dressed after a game and then had to pounce on them like an autograph hound. Terry referred to the writers contemptuously as “$25 dollar a week clerks.”
By 1938 an angry Terry took the step of arranging to have a friendly writer ghostwrite a magazine article providing Terry’s rebuttal to the negative stories written about him. More than 60 years later, Peter Williams’s biography provided a largely favorable view of Terry, portraying him as a proud, complex man whose basic honesty and unflinching objectivity were misunderstood by many writers of his era.
Terry’s move to the Giants front office lasted only a year. He resigned on November 30, 1942. It was unclear whether he had problems with others in the front office or whether he simply had too little to do because the Giants’ farm system was so depleted by the manpower demands of the World War II effort. Two years later, Terry gave up trying to obtain a suitable baseball job. He worked as a cotton trader in Memphis for five years before moving to Jacksonville and opening up a large Buick dealership. He continued to receive offers to return to baseball, turning down an offer to manage the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953 because, shades of 1922, it would have reduced his total income.
Terry was belatedly voted into the Hall of Fame in 1954 and later that year he became president of the South Atlantic (Sally) League. He was unsuccesful in attempting to purchase the Giants, reportedly because of Giants Owner Horace Stoneham’s unwillingness to sell the club to Terry with whom he apparently had differences. Terry’s last involvement in the game was his purchase of the Jacksonville club in 1963. He had long been a very wealthy man as his Buick agency and other business interests prospered. He remained involved with his family, his old baseball friends, and his many local interests for the rest of his life. Terry died in Jacksonville on January 9, 1989.
Interview with Bill Terry, Washington, D.C. 1984
Bob Broeg. Super Stars of Baseball. The Sporting News, 1971.
Frank Graham. McGraw of the Giants. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1944.
Fred Stein. Under Coogan’s Bluff. Chapter and Cask, 1979.
Total Baseball 7th Edition. Total Sports Publishing, 2001.
Peter Williams. When The Giants Were Giants. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
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