Baseball and Briar

This article was written by Bruce Harris

This article was published in the 2007 Baseball Research Journal


Psychologists have long known that perceptions impact the way humans interact with each other. Stereotypical beliefs are attempts to organize the world and classify individuals into neat, predictable groups. For example, there is a tendency to generalize college professors as liberals and construction workers as conservatives. Of course, these far- sweeping generalizations may or may not be true. Pipe smokers similarly tend to elicit strong perceptions and generalizations. In his 1962 book, Weber’s Guide to Pipes and Pipe Smokers, Carl Weber describes the typical pipe smoker:

We are all aware that the pipe smoker belongs to a breed apart from other men. His pleasures are contemplation and relaxation; he does not rush, he is not nervous. His joys are the casual and meditative ones, those of the fireside, the easy chair, and the good book. The pipe stands as a symbol of this type of man, easily recognized by his even frame of mind, his unhurried approach to life’s problems.1

George Cushman, editor of Pipe Lovers magazine, wrote:

The observation is often made that pipe smokers are all of a certain temperament, that not just any man can be a pipe smoker…most of them are solid, steady, rather easy going people who have more than the average amount of patience.2

Does pipe smoking relate to baseball? “Solid, steady, easy going”—those might be true in some cases, but the images of Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, or Roberto Clemente don’t conjure up those adjectives.

“I don’t want pipe smokers on my club,” quipped Joe McCarthy, the great Yankees manager.3 Marse Joe had an aversion to pipe smoking ballplayers. He believed pipe smokers were too complacent and self-satisfied. When asked by a reporter prior to the 1937 All-Star Game if he planned to mirror National League manager Bill Terry’s strategy, McCarthy snapped, “Let that pipe-smoker manage his team, and I’ll manage mine.”4 Stories about McCarthy and pipes abound. Lefty Gomez, a cigar and pipe smoker himself, recalled one about Yankees third baseman Red Rolfe. Red smoked a straight-stemmed pipe:

Joe had a fixation about guys smoking pipes. I roomed with Red Rolfe and Red loved his pipe. But he couldn’t smoke it in the lobby. McCarthy thought it had something to do with making a man complacent. It was the funniest thing in the world to see Rolfe sneaking a quick pipe in his room with me standing guard at his door.5

Although McCarthy later claimed that his negative comments about pipe smokers were said in jest (“I don’t care if a guy smokes a pipe, just as long as he plays up to his ability”),6 the press had a field day with him. Joe had to “look the other way” in some instances. Reporter Bob Broeg observed:

[Lou] Gehrig…whose pipe smoking Joe McCarthy tolerated because Mac was a smart manager who knew how to lead men, but also how and when to leave them alone when they buttered his bread.7

Pipe-smoking shortstop and former Philadelphia Phillies manager Art Fletcher served as a Yankees coach under Joe McCarthy. When asked by a writer to pose for a picture with his pipe, Fletcher refused, and explained to the reporter, “Not me…Don’t you realize by now that McCarthy doesn’t like a pipe smoker? [He] thinks a fellow is too self-satisfied [or] too complacent if he smokes a pipe.” Fletcher continued:

I shall never forget the time Joe caught Johnny Schulte (another Yankees coach) with a pipe. He laid him out—in a nice way, of course. And there was the time Lou Gehrig and other fellows brought out their briars. Joe couldn’t stand it because he thought the fellows looked too self-satisfied, or something.8

Dixie Walker started in the majors playing for McCarthy’s Yankees, and was 33 years old before he touched tobacco in any form. Shortly after taking up the pipe, while wearing the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Walker went on a 72 for 169 (.426 average) batting tear. Walker delivered a shot aimed at McCarthy when he said, “I don’t know whether I am a ball player or not, but I’m contented.”9

Eddie “The Brat” Stanky, a pipe smoker and the antithesis of complacency, who owned and smoked at least a dozen pipes, defended the practice. “Oh, a pipe smoke is a source of great solace and relaxation. It caresses you in victory, and it expands your thinking processes in defeat. I am afraid that McCarthy had the pipe all wrong.”10 Still, McCarthy’s influence was strong. When Chicago White Sox shortstop Chico Carrasquel began smoking a pipe in 1955, manager Marty Marion worried, “I hope it isn’t a sign of contentment.”11

A manager on the opposite end of the McCarthy spectrum was St. Louis Cardinals (1929-1933) and St. Louis Browns (1938) skipper Gabby Street. The former catcher, who played for five different teams during an eight-year major league career, was not only a great smoker of pipes, but he also had a collection of 70 pipes, which he displayed and proudly showed off visitors in his home.

There are big pipes and little pipes, odd-shaped pipes, straight and curved stems, engraved pipes, ancient pipes and pipes with the newest inventions and the latest fads, pipes that college boys are supposed to smoke and the kind on which grandpa likes to puff while wearing his soft slippers and reclining in his easy chair. The pipes are gifts. Some are inscribed and others carry symbols on the bowl. One is a long-grooved creation more than a foot in length, once owned by a lieutenant in General Custer’s troops—an officer who left the service just three days before the fatal massacre—and the pipe wound up in Gabby’s possession instead of Chief Sitting Bull’s. There is a bit of history or sentiment attached to each pipe in this collection and none will be smoked. Gabby has enough of the other kind to puff on for a lifetime.12

Two pipe-smoking infielders who played for Street’s 1938 St. Louis Browns were George McQuinn and Don Heffner. McQuinn began his career in the Yankees organization. But two things were against him. First, he was a first baseman during the early 1930s, a time in which Lou Gehrig pretty much took care of business at first base in the Bronx. Second, McQuinn was a pipe smoker, and he knew McCarthy wanted no part of pipe smokers. McQuinn was a kindly and good-natured soul who enjoyed the outdoors and a simple life. He was also very devoted to his pipe. The Sporting News reported:

[McQuinn] smokes an occasional cigar only to give the limited number of pipes a fellow can carry with him a chance to cool off and dry. If George had to choose between the first base job with the Yankees and his pipes, we honestly believe he would take the briar.13

This may be stretching things, but the point is clear. McQuinn was not a good fit for the Yankees or McCarthy. He went on to hit .276 for four different clubs with 135 home runs in a career that spanned 12 years. Interestingly, he finished his career with the New York Yankees in 1947 and 1948, but by then Bucky Harris had replaced McCarthy as Yankees’ manager.

Another pipe smoker who was traded from the Yankees to the Browns was Don Heffner. Much more competitive than McQuinn, Heffner’s major league career lasted 11 years. Unlike McQuinn, Heffner played for McCarthy’s Yankees (1934-1937), as well as Street’s 1938 St. Louis Browns team. Heffner never had a real shot with Joe McCarthy. Besides being a pipe smoker, Heffner had to compete with the likes of Tony Lazzeri. He appeared in only 161 games during his four-year stint. In 1938, playing for Street, Heffner appeared in 141 games.

In addition to Gabby Street, two other major leaguers smoked and collected pipes. Like many ballplayers, Hank Sauer enjoyed golf. But his hobby was pipe collecting. He kept one pipe in the club- house and he smoked every day before he put on his uniform.14 Former MVP and HOF great Joe “Ducky” Medwick was a huge fan of the pipe. He purchased many fine pipes from Henry Jost and Son, who owned and operated a tobacco store on Sixth Street in St. Louis. Players, if nothing else, are superstitious. Medwick recalled:

It’s a funny thing. But one day I came in here [Jost’s shop] and bought a pipe. That afternoon I hit a home run and, in fact, had a swell day all around. And after that, I noticed that every time I came back and bought a pipe, I’d have a wonderful day. Boy, the pipes that batting average cost me!15

Tobacconist Henry Jost said of Medwick, “One day after he hit one of those home runs, he came in and bought nine pipes for those other Cardinals.” To which Medwick replied:

Don’t get the idea that I am keeping the whole team in pipes….Quite a few of the Cardinals, including manager Frankie Frisch, are pipe smokers and I’ve bought a lot of ’em in here. Bob Weiland, the pitcher, is a great pipe fancier, but he goes in for antiques and that sort of thing. Fans, knowing my interest in pipes, sometimes send me antiques, but I’m not interested in ’em. I want pipes I can smoke.16

If one is to believe pipe tobacco advertisements, the clown prince of baseball, Al Schacht, was a long- time pipe smoker. Al is better known for his clowning antics in the third base coaching box than for his three-year major league pitching career with the Washington Senators. He mimicked third base coaches and entertained players and fans alike as he danced his way through exaggerated, imaginary bunt and hit- and-run signs.

Schacht may have not been the only one sending unique and unusual signals to batters. While managing in the Negro Leagues, Hall of Famer Rube Foster reportedly used his pipe in a number of different ways to communicate signs and signals to his players, and on occasion, as a weapon. Several different versions of Foster and his pipe permeate baseball lore. He may have smoked a meerschaum pipe,17 but whatever the material, Foster was an inveterate pipe smoker. Some claim he gave his players steal and bunt signs by altering the way he blew smoke from his pipe.18 Others say the smoke signals were decoys, and that Foster communicated the signals by holding his pipe at different angles,19 or by removing it from his mouth.20 He was also known to use his pipe as a means of discipline:

Foster brooked no disobedience to his orders. Earl M. Foster, Rube’s son, remembers one time Jelly Gardner was sent up to bunt and he tripled. He came back and sat down on the bench. The old man took the pipe that he smoked—he always had it—and he popped him right across the head. And he fined him and told him, as long as I’m paying you, you’ll do as I tell you to do.21

Cigarettes were not tolerated by Rube Foster. A player could not even hold one in his hand while sitting on the bench. However, pipes and cigars were permitted. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction, and perhaps we will never know the entire truth. No matter. The image of the great Rube Foster puffing smoke signals from a pipe, whether it is made of the aforementioned meerschaum or a badly chewed corn cob in the corner of the dugout, is an image to cherish forever. And, wherever the truth lies, Rube Foster deserves his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame and, if all is fair in the world, a spot in the Pipe Smoker’s Hall of Fame.23

A number of players, managers, team owners, and umpires enjoyed the pleasures of the pipe. Sparky Anderson frequently addressed reporters before and after games while puffing on his pipe. The cantankerous Billy Martin, not known for his patience, smoked a pipe. In fact, he starred in a number of television commercials and magazine ads extolling the virtues of Captain Black pipe tobacco. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ted Williams, during his Washington Senators managerial days, took a page out of Joe McCarthy’s book. Williams had an aversion to pipe smokers and their “I’ve got it made” disposition. Fortunately for pipe-smoking pitcher Joe Coleman, he was traded from the Senators to the pipe-friendly Detroit Tigers under Billy Martin in 1970, where he proceeded to win 20 games.

Great pitchers such as Christy Mathewson and Cy Young were pipe smokers, as was fellow Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie. Young owned a number of pipes, including a heavy one and a stubby one. He often received pipes for birthday gifts, and on his 80th birthday celebration, he received a lifetime supply of Granger Rough Cut tobacco, his favorite brand. The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Clyde Sukeforth was an inveterate pipe smoker and an expert on pipe tobacco. He was able to identify any brand of fine-cut tobacco after only one puff. And Dodgers team captain Pee Wee Reese was often seen, “…after a game in Ebbets Field … sitting before his locker, placidly puffing on his old briar pipe, with a group of Dodgers around him.”24

No fewer than 14 of the 1936 Pittsburgh Pirates team, among them Big Poison Paul and Little Poison Lloyd Waner, smoked pipes. The great Al Simmons took up pipe smoking. Perhaps he was subtly persuaded; his prospective father-in-law ran a wholesale tobacco business. Pitcher Ray Moore was a tobacco farmer in Maryland in the off-season. Moore was a pipe smoker, and may have influenced his 1960 Washington Senators teammates, nearly all of whom took to pipe smoking. Cubs owner William Wrigley had more than chewing gum in his mouth. He also had a pipe protruding from his lips. Bill Benswanger, who owned the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1932-46, was rarely, if ever seen without his pipe. If the late Cleveland Indians general manager Phil Seghi held his pipe in his left hand, that meant “somebody’s going.” A trade was imminent, recalled Oakland’s Sal Bando.25

The legendary Babe Ruth was known for his off-the-field antics as well as his prowess on the field. After one of his all-night affairs, Ed Barrow caught Ruth in bed, under the covers, smoking a pipe at 6:00A.M. When questioned by Barrow about the pipe, the Babe replied, “It’s very relaxing.”26

Among the thousands of pre-smoked church-warden style clay pipes on display at Keens Steakhouse in New York City is pipe number 19499, formerly owned by Babe Ruth.

Who can forget pitcher turned author Jim Brosnan? The Professor was an intellectual who, off the field, wore a blazer and incessantly smoked a pipe. Eddie Grant, who played third base during 1905-15, was known for his Ivy League diplomas. Nicknamed “Harvard Eddie,” he could generally be found smoking a pipe and reading a book. Sadly, he is best remembered not for his appearance in the 1913 World Series, but as the most prominent major leaguer killed in combat in World War I.27

In the 1980 World Series, millions of people watched the Philadelphia Phillies defeat the Kansas City Royals in six games. These same fans took note of U. L. Washington and his ever-present toothpick. U. L.’s toothpicks raised a few eyebrows. Is it safe? What if he swallows it or stabs another player with it? Red Hoffman, columnist for the Lynn, Massachusetts, Daily Evening Item, posed the question: “Is a protruding toothpick legal?” He was told there were no rules about it, and therefore it was legal. What about lollipops or pipes? wondered Hoffman. Could a player come to bat with a pipe hanging from his lips? The answer came from Bob Grim, staff assistant to American League president Lee MacPhail. “It would be the umpire’s judgment,” was the response.28 Keep watching, fans. You may see your favorite player grab two very different pieces of lumber before emerging from the dugout and strolling to home plate. With white ash in hand, and a fine old briar protruding from his mouth, the batter sets. Here comes the pitch.

 

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank SABR member Peter Richardson for his assistance and help researching Rube Foster.

 

Notes

  1. Weber, Carl. Weber’s Guide to Pipes and Pipe Smoking. New York: Cornerstone Library Publications, 1973, 7.

  2. Cushman, George. “Blowing Smoke Rings with the Editor,” Pipe Lovers, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1947, 366.

  3. The Sporting News, November 10, 1954, 16.

  4. The Sporting News, July 11, 1956,7.

  5. The Sporting News, March 16, 1963,11.

  6. The Sporting News,January 28, 1978, 40.

  7. The Sporting News, January 14, 1978,42.

  8. The Sporting News, November 9, 1939,3.

  9. The Sporting News, May 4, 1944,10.

  10. The Sporting News, March 12, 1952,2.

  11. The Sporting News, August 10, 1955,9.

  12. The Sporting News, January 19, 1939,6.

  13. The Sporting News, February 24, 1938,3.

  14. The Sporting News, July 20, 1949,16.

  15. The Sporting News, November 11, 1937, 3.

  16. The Sporting News, November 11, 1937,3.

  17. O’Neil, Buck. I Was Right on Time, New York: Fireside, 1997.

  18. See McNary, Kyle. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching and Catching in Baseball’s Negro Leagues, Minneapolis, MN: McNary, 1994, and Whitehead, Charles. A Man and His Diamonds: A Story of Andrew Rube Foster and His Famous American Giants, New York: Vantage, 1980.

  19. Holway, John B. Black Ball Stars: Negro League Pioneers, Westport, CT: Mecklermedia, 1988.

  20. Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.

  21. Ibid., 111.

  22. Hue Magazine, August 1957.

  23. Located in Galveston, Indiana.

  24. The Sporting News, October 15, 1952, 17.

  25. The Sporting News, July 25, 1970, 14.

  26. The Sporting News, June 2, 1954,3.

  27. Simon, Tom, ed. Deadball Stars of the National League, The Society for American Baseball Research, Inc., 2004.

  28. The Sporting News, November 29, 1980,6.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved