But the Polo Grounds Belonged to the Giants: An Interview With Bobby Thomson

This article was written by Tom Harris

This article was published in the The National Pastime (Volume 28, 2008)


Tom Harris interviewed Bobby Thomson at his home in New Jersey on September 26, 1993. Some text in the original transcript has been omitted here and, for clarity, some portions have been transposed. Click here to listen to the entire interview in the SABR Oral History Collection.

 

Bobby Thomson: I was born in Glasgow, Scotland, back on October 25, 1923. I was the youngest of six children. I have four sisters and a brother. We came over to this country, I imagine, when I was just between 2 and 2½ years old. Of course, my older brother was nine years older than I and, when I look back at it, I’m sure that he was the one that got me started playing with a baseball in the backyard I remember he bought me my first glove. He was working at Sears, Roebuck at the time, and he came home with a glove for me and, boy, that was just like Christmas. You know, I was really thrilled to get this brand-new glove. So really, that was the beginning of it—getting me out on the sandlots with a bat and a ball and a glove. Of course my dad, he was used to the soccer or, as they call it over there, football. But he came to this country and he took to baseball right away. He was a Dodger fan. . . .

As it turned out, my brother was a Yankee fan, and I took to the Giants. I guess I started playing, getting out and throwing the ball around, when I was 7, 8 years old. You know, when you first pick up a bat and it’s too heavy for you. Around that time was when I started, and it just went on from there. I continued to play Police Athletics League ball and then, as I got into high school and played for the team and kind of played what they called semipro ball on Staten Island—this was all on Staten Island because that’s where we landed in New York. I was brought up in Staten Island for I guess, up until—how old was I? I was probably 32 years old when I finally moved to New Jersey. . . .

I never did go and watch the Giants play, but I followed them on the radio, and my dad, I remember, he took me to a couple of games over at Ebbets Field. He was a great Dolph Camilli fan. He was a typical Scot, not a very demonstrative type of a person, but I’ll always remember when Dolph Camilli hit a home run this day. He jumped up and raised his fist in the air, and I really got a kick out of it. I may as well throw this in for what it’s worth—at this time I lost him, before I graduated from high school. So, as much as he was right there with me at all the ball- games and loved to go to ballgames, he never did live long enough to see me play in the big leagues, which was a little bit of a tough one. But, as a youngster, on Sundays at Staten Island, there was always a ballgame someplace, and he and I would walk for miles. We didn’t have a car when we first came over to this country. We walked for miles just to see a ballgame. . . .

First contract

After high school, the day after I graduated, I signed a contract with the Giants—to go to Class D, playing Class D baseball. I signed for a hundred dollars a month. Of course, the Dodgers were very much interested in me. In fact they showed more interest in me than the Giants did I guess I told them I wanted to go to the Giants, because they asked me not to sign with the Giants before talking to them. They said they’d top any offer the Giants made. You know, as a young kid, back then, money was no object. I just said I was a Giant and that was going to be it. . . .

George Mack actually signed me, but there was a fellow from Staten Island that had a lot to do with my getting into baseball, professional baseball, and that was Jim Molinelli. Of course, unfortunately he was killed earlier this year in an automobile accident, he and his wife, down in Florida. George Mack was the guy that first saw me playing on a Sunday afternoon when I was playing in this semipro league. I was just a high-school kid, but they were all older people. You might say, for my age, I was better than the average guy my age.

I went to their Class D club and, really, they had a good ballclub, and I was just a scared, nervous kid and didn’t get a chance to play much. I played in a few games, but basically I really wasn’t playing that much. Bill Terry happened to be in the front office at the time, and apparently they needed a third baseman in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. So they shipped me out to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where I thought I’d get a better chance to play. Well, I didn’t. They had a good third baseman there, but he was called into the army. So then I moved into third and I finished out the season. But, actually, I probably didn’t play in more than fifteen or twenty games my first year away, 1942.

Breaking in with the Giants

I went to spring training in 1947 to play third base. Now, they just happened to have a new rookie, Jack Lohrke, that they had signed. So [we had] Jack Lohrke, the veteran Sid Gordon, the holdover [Bill Rigney], and myself. And Mel Ott had given each of us a chance to play every third day. Well, heck, we were barnstorming back east with the Indians. A week out of New York, where we were going . . . to play a weekend series with the Indians, Mel Ott apparently was dissatisfied with the play of our second baseman, Buddy Blattner, and asked me if I’d try second. Heck, I wanted to play ball, and that’s the toughest position for an inexperienced guy to play. But anyway, I opened up the season there. I missed a double play the first time around, my first opportunity, but I started to feel my way around and felt comfortable at second. But then I was moved to center field because they were having problems in center field I played center in 1951; I played center field until they brought up Willie Mays. Durocher immediately put him into center field and moved me to third. Again, I was just happy to stay in the lineup and play someplace. I didn’t have a problem with it. You know, I hadn’t had the experience fielding balls and making plays, but I was a natural and a ballplayer. I remember Durocher hitting me ground balls just to try me out there. He hit me about eighteen or twenty ground balls, and I just jumped around and fielded them, and I remember his remark. He says, “You can’t play third any better than that. Don’t worry about him. He’s all right.”

I think Durocher worked on my stance. He had me crouching over, in other words, to make me more aggressive. I was always pretty much of a standup guy at the plate—you know, without crouching. So I think that crouching just got me more aggressive and got me into the ball more. I had pretty good success with it that year. . . .

When a young guy first steps onto a big-league ball- field in a big-league uniform—you know, it could be any field and you’d be thrilled. But the Polo Grounds be- longed to the Giants, and so, to me, it was a unique ballpark. It was built more to play polo or football, really, so obviously it had short foul lines, and then it stretched out in left and right center and dead center a long way, much further than the average ballparks. But you had to learn how to play those caroms off the outfield walls in right and left There was a lot of Giant tradition going back to John McGraw’s time and Bill Terry. You know, I just felt very good and very happy to be there.

My first game was the year before. In 1946 they had brought me up—my first full year in Organized Baseball. I had been in the army for two years, and I made the Jersey City Giants Triple A team in ’46, and the Giants brought me up at the end of that year in the last month of the season. I hit a couple of home runs. I don’t really remember my first time at bat with the Giants. I think I hit a home run, but frankly I don’t remember that, whether it’s true or not. [Editor’s note: Thomson’s first home run was nine days after his debut.] But opening day in 1947, I hit a home run besides missing a double-play ball at second. We won that game; that’s what counts.

1951

Well, we thought our club looked pretty good. We had some very strong, dependable players— strong down the middle. You know, I was able to do a job in center field, and [Eddie] Stanky and [Al] Dark were a very experienced double-play combination. We had a big, strong guy in left in Monte Irvin and [also] Whitey Lockman. I guess Whitey was in the outfield at the time when Irvin was on first base. I think there were a lot of changes that year. They all seemed to work. So anyway, we had enough good players, and we had some good pitching with [Larry] Jansen and [Sal] Maglie, among others, [like Dave] Koslo, and we just felt we were strong enough to make a good run for it.

Of course we started off—we won the first game and then lost about the next eight or nine in a row [Editor’s note: The Giants won the first and third games of the sea- son but then dropped the next eleven], but then we finally got it going. Yeah, we did get on that winning streak, which made an awfully big difference.

The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

Well, the powers that be in baseball, I guess, decided that there was going to be a three-game playoff [in 1951] . . . I thought we had won the pennant on Sunday up in Boston, because we beat the Braves, and the Dodgers were playing down in Philly and they were losing. So, gee whiz, they ended up winning, and we were going to have to play the Dodgers in a three-game playoff, but I didn’t like the sound of that at all. We feared them. We respected them. Going into that first game, we were losing one to nothing, and I got up and hit a home run with a man on and made it two to one. And Monte Irvin later hit another home run, so it was three to one. You know, you get out there and you’re nervous, but once the game starts you’re totally determined, and you’re doing your best, and that’s all you can do. This was at Ebbets Field . . . the home run wouldn’t have been a home run in the Polo Grounds. I hit it over the 360-foot mark and maybe hit the ball 380 feet, but that was an easy out in the Polo Grounds.

So, now we move to the Polo Grounds, and now we’re one game up on them, so we felt pretty good about ourselves. Except Clem Labine shut us out. He was just unhittable, and 10–0. That was a terrible feeling, to get beat that badly. Hey, look. The Dodgers had a great team from top to bottom. You know, they were better than our team in the golden decade of the fifties. . . .

[Don Newcombe] was a great pitcher. He had very strong stuff. You know, he wasn’t an easy guy to hit against I had some hits off him, but he got me out a lot of times. We had been through the whole season and had plenty of pep talks before. We knew what we had to do. There was nothing to say. We were professionals. Dark and Stanky and Lockman and Irvin—oh, Don Mueller and all these guys. We felt we had a good ballclub. But it’s funny. That day, what was the first time for a lot of things, what I found myself doing that final game warming up be- fore going out to take infield practice—I found myself looking around at our guys. Maybe I was looking for sup- port. I don’t know. I looked at Dark and I knew he was as good a competitor as anybody. And, boy, I’m glad he’s on my team—and Stanky. And I remember looking at Lockman. You know, maybe I’m just trying to build up strength within myself. But I had never done that before. I looked at my guys over [there] and thought, “We’re ready. Let’s get ’em.” But I’d never done that before.

There were a lot of things that happened that day and, rationalizing, and going back over and asking,    You know what it boils down to is, we’re professionals and we get down the fundamentals and the important things: Total concentration and total determination. That’s what it was that day, and, of course, the way it turned out, I guess some things were just meant to be. And that’s the only way I look at it.

Of course, we were losing 4–1 going into the last of the ninth, and I never felt more dejected in my life. I threw the glove down in the dugout and I felt terrible. And I remember thinking that we weren’t good enough to go beyond this point. Those Dodgers were too tough for us. What a letdown. And I also realized that I was the fifth hitter that inning. I’m dead. I don’t even get a chance to hit because Newcombe mowed us down in the eighth inning. He just looked unbeatable. But pretty soon, though, we got a couple of ground-ball base hits and, wow, things were looking up. Monte Irvin popped up. Here’s our big, strong guy all year . . . and they just throw that and he popped up, which anybody could do against Newcombe.

But then . . . Lockman hit a double to left and we scored a run, and it’s now 4–2 and I’m up. I get a chance to hit. But of course, that’s when Mueller slid into third and hurt his ankle severely and, looking back on that and rationalizing the whole thing—they stopped the ball- game. It stopped the tension, broke the tension of the ballgame, because really I was down at third very much concerned about Mueller. You know, he was lying there in pain and I felt badly for him. It wasn’t until they carried him off the field that I got back in the baseball game again. In the meantime, they had made a pitching change. I wasn’t even aware of it.

I didn’t realize, and so now I’m heading to home plate with a bat in my hand all the time and I realize, Hey, I’m the next hitter, and I’d never done it before, approaching home plate from third base. Then, psyching myself up, telling myself to wake up and give yourself a chance to hit, swearing at myself. Wait and watch. Give your-self a chance to hit. Do a good job. All those things are what I’m saying to myself. I never talked to myself like that before. Basically it was wait and watch. Wait and watch. Don’t get overanxious. As soon as you commit yourself and you’re a ways out on your front foot, you know, you’ve got nothing left. So, wait and watch, wait and watch. And really psych myself up and swearing at myself to just give myself a chance to hit. So, I got in the batter’s box and of course I realized Branca was out there, but it didn’t faze me. . . .

You’re up there and you’re just concentrating on the ball. Of course, he threw the first pitch right through the middle of the plate, which was the way he pitched, and of course he’d played for Durocher quite a bit and that was Durocher’s—you’d come in, you don’t nibble at the corners, you get a strike on the guy, and then go to work. Of course, I took the first one. The only thing I can think of was I was so determined [about] waiting and watching I watched the thing right over the middle of the plate. I later found out the guys wanted to kill me on the bench for taking that pitch.

But now, he’s going to come inside on me with a bad pitch, because I get to figuring he’d come inside and get me back a little bit and then come back with a breaking ball away from the plate. Of course, in the Polo Grounds I could hit his breaking ball away from the plate out to center, right, left-center, 400 feet, you know, 450 feet, and Snider would have been out there waiting for it. But he just didn’t get it in there far enough . . . and I was quick with my hands anyway. I just jumped right on it. I remember getting a glimpse of it coming in and jumping on it. That was it. I immediately thought it was a home run. I thought home run right up in my mind, but then I thought it starts to sink so obviously I got a little bit on top of it. It had to have tremendous topspin. 

I’m halfway to first and I’m watching it. I couldn’t get my eyes off it, and then I saw it disappear. “Well,” I thought, “it’s not a home run,” when it started to sink. “It’s just a base hit.” That’s all I wanted was a base hit. Because I had hit it hard enough, it had to be off the wall. Then it disappeared and that was it. And then there was excitement that I’d never experienced before. And of course all it meant was that we’d beat those guys, and never in the world did we think they’d still be talking about it.

*****

I’ve become used to it, but I’ve been surprised over the years that they still think and talk about this. Of course, the world of sports has become so commercialized, with baseball cards and this and that. Heck, I get mail from all over the country and these kids telling me about the home run and talking about the home run, and these are young kids! But I guess they see it on TV And actually, wherever I go, anyplace, people meet me and that’s what they want to talk about.

1951 World Series

That was a tough one. That hurt not being able to finish off the year with a win against the Yankees. . . .[That winter I got] a lot of mail and phone calls and a lot of stuff like that. But, of course, back then, it wasn’t like today, where they’d get you on television and you’d be on all the shows and this and that. I was invited to do a lot of speaking, which I didn’t do. You know, it was just phone calls and, in a sense, it was quiet, because I had to go to a few banquets, but it wasn’t an everyday thing.

1954: Traded to Milwaukee

You know, apparently I was an every-other-year player. I mean I was inconsistent. So after the 1953 season, you know, I didn’t live up to expectations, although I think I recall my statistics a little bit, and today the same statistics would be worth three or four million dollars. I knocked in 106 runs. Somewhere around there. I just happened to listen and discuss, but I don’t remember. I hit something like .272 and knocked out 26 homers or something like that, but it just wasn’t what the Giants were looking for. [Editor’s note: .288, 26 HRs, 106 RBIs.] So, I began hearing through the media, “Thomson’s days are coming to an end with the Giants”—of course, with a young Willie Mays to look forward to playing center field for the Giants. They had the opportunity. They needed some help in pitching and they thought I was worth something to other teams in the marketplace. They made a smart move, and they used me to get a pitcher, without whom they’d never have won it all the way they did, beating Cleveland in the World Series—Johnny Antonelli. He had a great year for them and he made the difference. . . .

So now the Giants go on and win the pennant that year. Sure, it was tough. I look back and I got traded off a World Championship team. I’d like to have been there, but I was kind of realistic. I’d like to have been there, but that’s baseball. I couldn’t blame anybody but myself. . . .

You know, the Giants treated me very well. You know, I couldn’t ask for any more, and I remember I wrote Leo Durocher a letter and told him it was a pleasure playing for him. I’ve got stories where Leo and I had our run- ins. We had our little things off and on, but Leo was the kind of guy, you know, that would open up his mouth and shoot right from the hip, and, if you had something to say, you were allowed to say it, but then it was over the next day. We didn’t hold grudges or anything like that. If you had something to say, you got it off your chest. You know, Leo was quite a guy to play for.

I had just been married and was living on Staten Island [when I was traded]. Well, I didn’t own the home; I was renting it. It was almost like a honeymoon cottage on Staten Island. Well, what my wife and I did was, we put all our stuff in storage and we moved out and we spent a year in Milwaukee—we rented homes out there. When I heard the news—I felt [Milwaukee] had a very good team. They had a big guy named Gene Conley, and I thought, “Gee, I’m glad I’m on his side,” because he was a hard-throwing basketball player, six-foot-eight, what- ever it was. He had struck me once on the side of my leg, and I thought he was a guy that threw from the side. You know, you had to hang in there against him, and, if he got a little wild inside, well, it was too bad. . . .

I went on to Milwaukee. It’s part of baseball. And I disappointed myself there. I never really felt comfortable there. It wasn’t until the last year I was there that I just started, for the first time—well, I broke my leg, of course, in spring training [in 1954]. Then I came back too soon and, heck, it bothered me through the next season, ’55. . . .

1957: Back to the Giants

It’s funny, I started off slowly [in 1957], but I just started to find myself, and I was hitting the ball well in Philadelphia when I got the news I was traded [back to the Giants]. Then again, the Braves made a good move. They needed a second baseman to kind of anchor down their infield, and [Red Schoendienst] was just the man they were looking for. So I say I helped the Braves win a World Championship too, by getting traded! . . .

I’d lost all that early, young-person feeling—excitement—about playing for the New York Giants. I’d lost that. I had grown up and married, and baseball had now become a business. It wasn’t a plaything like it was when I started.

Cubs, Red Sox, Orioles and life after baseball

They really surprised me and traded me to the Cubs, and that was a bit of a shocker—right in spring training— because my wife certainly was looking forward to going out to San Francisco. I was looking forward to going out to San Francisco too—a change of scenery, certainly.

. . . But of course, you know, I went over to the Cubs and spent two of the most fun years of my life in baseball. For one thing, Al Dark had been traded that same year, but the Cubs had been finishing in last place, and that’s the part that didn’t sound so hot. But, anyway, Al Dark and I went over there, and we felt we contributed pretty well to help them get into fifth place the following year. And, of course, it was   playing day baseball and living like a human being, going home and having dinner at night. It was a great thing. I enjoyed Chicago very much. The fans were great. . . .

Then I agreed to a contract for the Cubs and they traded me off in the winter for a guy that was never heard of. I don’t know what went on there. Maybe I signed for too much money that year, but nowadays it wouldn’t be anything.

The Orioles retired me. Oh, I was coming down to the end of the line. I didn’t look forward. We had just bought a home in New Jersey. We bought a home and had moved to New Jersey, and we left Milwaukee after spending one year out there. We realized that we were really easterners, and we wanted to get back to this area I didn’t look forward to leaving for spring training—which is always a bad sign. So I just went up to Boston, and they could feel the end coming down, and they got rid of me. Obviously, I wasn’t performing well enough. Then I got to Baltimore, and that didn’t work out, and so [they released me].

I came home and sat down and had a talk with my wife about where do we think we ought to go from here, and she said, “Bob, it’s been baseball all of our lives. That’s all we’ve talked about and worked at. Why don’t we try to find out what else is going on in the world?” That’s what I wanted to do, so I went out and looked for a job. Well, first of all, I had only had a high-school education. So I went to Stevens Institute and took a lot of aptitude tests, and they pointed out sales. That’s what I’ve been doing I interviewed at a lot of different companies and I had a lot of interesting experiences and had quite a few job offers, but I finally settled down in the paper business, and that was it. I didn’t have any feelings to stay in baseball.

I was offered to play out in the Coast League, and I had an offer to go over and play in Japan. I guess my wife and I talked about it and, of course, she was ready. She liked to travel. But I guess I thought that we were just putting off the inevitable, so I never really considered it.

Favorite ballparks

I enjoyed playing in Philadelphia [and Chicago]. I had some success there Other than that, there weren’t any particularly great parks that I looked forward to playing in. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which park I did best in, but I enjoyed going to Chicago and playing in Wrigley Field, especially on weekends.

Mentors

. . . When I played for the Giants, of course, back in the days before we were flying around the country, to me people like Dark or Stanky or Larry Jansen or Whitey Lockman—we’d sit around and we’d talk baseball. So, I would say those fellows had as much of an effect on me as just anybody.

Toughest pitchers

Ewell Blackwell, I’ve always said, is the toughest pitcher. You know, Drysdale in later years, he was tough, but Ewell Blackwell, he had a snakelike delivery—all moves and, you know, he had a wicked sinker and a good changeup, curveball. There was a whole bunch of them that were tough.

Mel Ott, Johnny Mize, Ernie Lombardi

Mel Ott was like I am. He was a gentleman. He wasn’t a tough manager like Durocher, but he was just a ballplayer that I rooted for and kind of an idol type of guy, and that was it. He was Mr. Giant.

Big John[ny Mize], he could sit and he had great eyes. You know, he could take a ball an inch off the plate for ball four. As for me, I’d have to swing at it or else they were apt to call me out. He was a great hitter and had a great eye for the baseball and for the strike zone. And of course, he could pump those home runs out there.

Ernie [Lombardi] used to sit on the bench with his catcher’s glove just like a big pancake. He’d roll it up and he’d sit on the bench. He was just pinch-hitting then, and he’d just sit on the bench with that under his arm, and his shoes were always untied, and sometimes he had them off, I guess. We used to watch Mel Ott, when he was looking for a pinch-hitter, come down on the bench, and all he would say was, “Hey Lom.” That’s all. He would just nod at him and say, “Hey Lom.” He didn’t have to say any- thing else. Lom knew he was a pinch-hitter, and he always was just very relaxed. He’d bend over and tie his shoelaces and go over to the bat rack and grab a bat and just drag it up to home plate. He wouldn’t even swing it sometimes, you know, like a lot of guys want to do, to get loosened up He was just a very nonchalant guy.

Monte Irvin, Hank Thompson, and integration

I do remember about Monte and Hank. I remember we took a train out to Chicago this one time and we got to Chicago and got off the train, and we all got on a bus, and Monte and Hank Thompson got in a cab and went to wherever they stayed, and I thought, “Geez, that isn’t right.” You know, I talked to some of the guys about it. I thought that, if they were playing on our ballclub, they ought to be able to stay with us, but that changed. . . .

That would be probably ’48. [Editor’s note: Irvin’s first game with the Giants was July 8, 1949.] I respected [Monte] as much as anybody on the ball team.

Rigney, Whitey, Stanky, Maglie

[Bill Rigney] was another Durocher man. He was a utility player, a good hitter, and a great utility player. He was a student of the game. Obviously, he learned a lot from Durocher, because he became a manager for a good number of years himself. He was a very successful man in baseball.

Whitey [Lockman] was a very low-key guy. I remember him most as a first baseman. He was an outfielder, a good outfielder. He could run and get the ball, but he broke his leg in spring training, and I don’t think that leg ever—I think he lost some of his speed, but he could still run above average. But as a first baseman, he was great. He was always overshadowed in New York by Gil Hodges, but Whitey was as good a glove man as any of them—and he hit the ball.

[Eddie Stanky,] “The Brat”—there was a great guy to have on your ballclub if you played with him. Of course, if you played against him, you hated him. He was that type of guy. He was a cocky guy, and he was into the game. I remember when I was playing center field and a pitcher would get two strikes on a batter. [Stanky] would turn around and stand there like a general, with his arms folded, and just stare at me to see what I was going to do. Well, naturally, on our team, if Jansen was pitching and he got two strikes on a hitter, we felt we knew what he was going to do with certain hitters. So, obviously, you’d move around. So, what I’m saying is, I didn’t need Stanky to turn around and wonder if I’m going to move around. . . . Freddie Fitzsimmons used to have a saying: If you’re moving around you’re killing the grass. You know, these pitchers weren’t running around enough. So I’d holler back at him a few choice words— you know, “You play second base and I’ll take care of center field.” . . .

“The Barber,” [Sal Maglie]—the media painted him to be such a mean guy, and of course he had a heavy beard, but he was a very easy-going guy. He used to laugh at the reputation that they gave him. Of course, he was a tough pitcher. He did come inside on hitters, but he wasn’t any kind of mean guy at all.

Mays

I would imagine we felt he was a great talent because he did the job in the field right away. He made some great plays, but he struggled at bat. But Leo kept him in there and, you know, he wasn’t Willie Mays with the bat that year. It took him a little while before the real Willie Mays showed up with the bat He was a young kid that loved to play baseball. The good Lord put him on earth to play baseball, and he was just like a little kid—innocent little kid—who loved every minute that he was on the ball field.

Ott as manager

Well, we weren’t a winning team [in 1948], and Mel Ott wasn’t a guy who would run a tight ship. He was just a nice guy, a great ballplayer, and, given the ballplayers who could go out and do the job—because he let them go out and do his thing, do their thing, just like he did. Nobody [ever] had to manage him. He just went out and hustled and played his game of baseball. So I guess they felt we needed somebody who was going to shake us up, give us a little more clout. And, of course, Durocher had a lot of clout.

Durocher

Leo was that kind of manager. If he had something to say, he wouldn’t hold back. No, heck. I liked playing for Leo, because he played ball. As long as you were out there hustling and giving 110 percent, making an error had nothing to do with it. Really, I don’t remember what it was that he got teed off at me for. I think it might have been in Cincinnati. I’d been sick all night long, and the next day I showed up—it was a Sunday morning. I don’t know whether I’d just had a virus or something, but, whatever it was, I really felt terrible. It was a hot day in Cincinnati and I was playing center field, and I didn’t catch a ball that he felt I should have caught, and I think he jumped on me for that. I forget what I said—“I did the best I could” or whatever it was—but anyway I think that was what it was all about. Back then, we didn’t get out of a ballgame because something was wrong with us. He probably never knew that I was in terrible shape. I agreed with him that I probably should have had the ball, but it wasn’t the usual effort—some little thing like that. So, really, it wasn’t much more than that. So, as I said, I wrote a letter to him. I wouldn’t have written a letter to him if I didn’t feel the way I did about him.

Spahn, Mathews, Aaron, Banks

Oh, Spahnie—he was great. He was not only a great pitcher. He could hit, he could field, so he helped himself win a lot of ballgames. Eddie [Mathews] was strong and had a good swing and could really rip that ball. He was just very strong. He showed up every day—not say, a whole lot around the clubhouse. Just went out there and played ball—a tough man and a great glove man.

[Hank Aaron] was a young kid. He showed up, like Willie. He wasn’t as excitable as Willie; he was quieter and low-key. You wouldn’t hear him in the clubhouse. Willie had that high-pitched voice, and guys would kid him, and you’d hear him yakking away. But Hank was a low-key guy. He just went out and swung the bat.

Ernie [Banks] I always thought hit more three-run homers than anybody I’d ever played with. He would do the job at shortstop and do the job at bat and was just a very easy-going guy. He used to kid me every day I walked into the park. He’d say, “You’re the Thomson with the p or without the p?” He was talking about Hank Thompson.

Friends in baseball

Larry Jansen and Whitey Lockman. I played on the Braves but there was nobody I’d call close, but guys that, you know, I knew and liked. I know when the Giants came into Milwaukee and played I’d go out with Lockman and Jansen—kind of like Jack Lohrke. He was one of the people I ran around with. But, no, that’s about it.

Baseball in 1993

Well, [today] I keep an eye on things. I don’t have the time or don’t care to sit and watch television for three hours watching a ballgame unless, once in a while, I enjoy a particular pitcher. Maybe I want to watch a particular player. I just kind of keep a distance and have a fairly rough idea what’s going on. But the game has gotten to be a pain in the neck, in a sense, based on the whole—starting with agents and the huge contracts, where the game of baseball has been left behind. The business aspect is what everybody seems to be more concerned with. Of course, the media is part of that. You know, back in our time, we signed a one-year contract based on what our performance was the year before. Then, it was over again. There was no haggle and hassle. . . over contracts. Once you did [it], it’s over with. The business [now], it never ends. Players aren’t satisfied when they’re already making two or three million, and you wonder how much can they spend? And what about the fans? This moving around from team to team—when we played, there were times we got traded, but not the way these guys move around today. So, what if the kids’. . . favorite player has taken off for another team for an extra million dollars? So, that’s part of it       The instability of players moving around the way they do has become more of a selfish thing. Hey look, you can’t blame the players. It’s the system and baseball the way it is now. It’s too bad. 

TOM HARRIS is a lifelong baseball fan and has interviewed several retired players.

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