Some Call Him ‘Tarzan’

This article was written by Eugene C. Murdock

This article was published in the 1981 Baseball Research Journal


“It was my first spring training ever, at Jackson, Tennessee, in 1927, when I went up with Toledo. Casey Stengel, our manager, was trying to teach me how to turn and throw to first base in one motion. Well, we were playing Chattanooga later in the day and there was a man on first. I thought I’d please Casey and pick the man off. So I turned quickly and fired. No one expected this move and I caught everyone napping. I hit the runner in the chest and knocked him cold. The first baseman picked the ball up and tagged the guy and the umpire called him out.”

“Back in the dugout, Casey looked up and said, `Parmelee, you don’t need to practice that play anymore; you have it down perfect’.”

Leroy Parmelee, frequently “Roy” sometimes “Bud’,” and occasionally “Tarzan,” was working in a Toledo factory in 1926 and pitching semipro ball in nearby Fremont two nights a week. One of his outings happened to be a no-hitter. Stengel heard about him and sent a couple of scouts to observe him in action. The rugged, 200-pound, 19-year-old obliged by tossing a shutout. Stengel signed him for 1927, and among other things, tried to instruct him on his move to first base.

But Parmelee was not joking when he spoke of his wildness. As a boy he was frequently barred from pickup games. “They were afraid I’d kill somebody. I could throw hard, very hard, but I was never sure where it was going. I was never a big winner, but I was my own worst enemy with my wildness. They used to say I was not beaten by the opposition very often, but rather by myself.”

The record bears this out. For Toledo in 1929 he led the league in wild pitches, hit batsmen and bases on balls. He led the National League four times in hit batsmen and once in walks, even though he was not a regular starting pitcher.

In the course of 16 years in professional ball, 10 in the majors with the Giants, Cardinals, Cubs, and Athletics, Parmelee hit five batters on the head. Fortunately, none died, but Johnny Pasek, catching for St. Paul at the time, never played again. “The ball bounced off his head right past me to second base. I thought it hit his bat. He didn’t go down at once, but when I turned back to the plate, there he was.”

“After I hit someone, you might just as well take me out of the game. I wasn’t any good. I somehow thought it was my fault. I broke Randy Moore’s little finger one year with about a week to go in the season. He thanked me for allowing him to go home early. The first time I faced him the next season he wiggled the little finger at me and I threw the ball behind him. After the game he asked me what I was trying to do. I told him that when he wiggled his little finger like that at me, I was likely to throw the ball anywhere.”

Following two years 1927 and 1928 in the lower minors, Roy spent 1929 with Toledo and was sold to the New York Giants at the close of the season. Stengel had close ties with his old club and more or less guided the pitcher to McGraw. The Giants exercised all three options on him and it was not until 1932 at Columbus that the young righthander came into his own. Joining the team in mid-season, he won 14 and lost only one. He had a fine strike-out to bases-on-balls ratio of 102 to 50 in 119 innings pitched.

“While in Columbus that year,” Roy recalled, “my greatest fan was a blind boy named Charlie Medick. He would root for me and pray for me when I pitched and I never lost a game there. I would go to the railing and talk to Charlie regularly. He was sort of a good luck charm for me.”

“Well, I went up to the Giants the next year, 1933, and didn’t see him anymore. But in 1934 we were in Pittsburgh for a series and I was just coming back from an appendicitis operation. Terry didn’t want to use me yet, but everything went wrong with our staff at that time, and Bill told me I would have to pitch the first game of the next day’s doubleheader. I worried all night about it because I didn’t think I was ready.

“The next morning in the lobby of the Schenley Hotel I ran into Charlie Medick’s father; he told me Charlie was out in the car. We had our handshaking, as usual, and then Charlie, who knew I was going to pitch, reminded me that I had never lost a game when he was in the stands. That was true, I told him, but I was just back from a serious operation and wasn’t sure how I would do. He told me, `Bud, do me a favor. Pitch a no-hitter today.’ To humor the boy I said, `O.K., Charlie, a no-hitter it will be!’ “Now I don’t think I was ever hit harder than I was that day in Pittsburgh. But the fielders made great plays. Charlie told me he’d be praying for me. Along about the sixth inning I realized I had not allowed a hit yet, and wondered to myself if that blind youngster in the stands had anything to do with it. Well, I did not pitch a no-hitter. I was ahead 3-0 with one out in the eighth inning when I gave up the first hit. Lloyd Waner tripled, Tommy Thevenow singled, and Terry took me out. Al Smith came in and we won, 3-1.

“Between games I went up into the seats and sat with Charlie. I apologized, semi-jokingly, for not throwing the no-hitter. He replied, `Bud, you know when I talked to you this morning at the hotel, I didn’t think you had confidence, so I asked you to pitch a no-hitter. I thought if I asked you to do that, you would try very hard to do it, and with my prayers you might make it, or at least win the ball game, which you did. And we can still say that you’ve never lost a game when I’ve been in the stands.’ “

1933, of course, was Parmelee’s best season in baseball. He won 13 and lost 8 for the National League and World Champion Giants, and had the lowest earned run average he ever achieved, 3.18. Pitching with the strongest staff in baseball — Carl Hubbell, Hal Schumacher, and Fred Fitzsimmons — he struck out 132 and walked 77 in 218 innings. “Bill Terry, our new manager, was a big help to me that year,” Roy remembered. “In the previous three years when I was up early in the season, if I didn’t win the first game, McGraw would ship me out. That made me nervous. In 933, however, Terry took Schumacher and myself aside and said we were going to be among his starting pitchers even if we lost the first five games. That gave me confidence.”

“So in my first game that year against the Phillies, I threw a one-hitter which easily could have been a no-hitter. It was a ground ball in the second inning which went right through the legs of Johnny Vergez, who normally would have eaten it up. It could have been called either a hit or an error, but it went in the books as a double. Some of the writers later apologized to me for the way it was scored. That runner was the only guy who scored in the game against me, and you might have guessed it, he scored on a wild pitch.”

Parmelee pitched two other memorable games in 1933. One of these, on July 16, was a loss to Red Lucas of the Reds, but it went 15 suspense-filled innings before the Giants lost 1-0. Earlier in the month, on July 2, Roy played a crucial part in a spectacular double shutout of the Cardinals. Carl Hubbell dueled Tex Carleton and Jess Haines for 18 innings before winning 1-0. Parmelee went up against Dizzy Dean in the second game and also won 1-0 while striking out 13 members of the Gas House Gang. But what does he remember best about that day? “Hubbell did not walk a man in the 18 innings, and even harder to believe, I didn’t walk a man in 9 innings!”

“Toward the end of the season, we were in St. Louis when we got that famous `they can’t beat us’ telegram from Blondy Ryan. He joined us there and we went on to Chicago for a big series. I can’t remember if that message from Ryan really inspired us or not. We were pretty much up for that Chicago series, anyhow; perhaps the importance of it was exaggerated some. What I do remember is that my old problems of wildness and nervousness plagued me that time in Chicago. We had a couple of rainouts and I was slated to pitch the first game of a doubleheader. I had a 3.0 lead well into the game and was cruising along nicely. Then I hit Stainback on his arm and broke it. I blew up and walked the bases full. But Hi Bell came in and went on to win the game. We took the series, too, and were in good shape for the pennant.

“I liked Terry better than McGraw as a manager. McGraw was a great one, but he was too rough for me. If he bawled me out I was hurt. I remember my first game in the bigtime — we were at Brooklyn, a place where Mac hated to lose. Well, an outfielder threw to the wrong base and we lost. In the dressing room he went down the line reading every player off for some stupid play made in the past. I was smiling to myself because I hadn’t been in a game yet and there was nothing he could use on me. But when he got to me he said, `And you, Parmelee, I don’t know how you expect to be a big leaguer — you eat too much.’

“Terry, on the other hand, didn’t yell much at the players, but he used other methods to show his displeasure. He would ignore you for a couple of days if you made a bad play or pitched poorly. Sometimes this would hurt more than a lot of screaming.

“It was while I was with the Giants that the writer Jimmy Powers gave me the nickname `Tarzan.’ I used to think it was because of my strength and muscles. I asked Jimmy one day how he happened to come up with it. He replied, `Every time you pitch, you seem to be out on a limb.’ That deflated my ego a bit. It was also, incidentally, in New York that the writers dropped the `Le’ in my first name and it simply became `Roy.’ I was called `Bud’ when I was in Toledo because at the time I joined the Mudhens there was a softball pitcher in town named `Bud Parmelee.’ It was just natural that I became `Bud Parmelee’ too.

“I had one of my biggest thrills in baseball with the Giants in 1934. The Cubs came to town one day (July 17) and Lon Warneke was pitching for them. With two men on and two out, catcher Gus Mancuso was at bat with me to follow. Warneke purposely passed Mancuso to get to me. With the bases loaded, I swung wildly at two curve balls and missed them both by a foot. Then Lon tried to waste one over my head. I swung mightily and happened to connect, and drove a grandslammer into the right field seats.

“That had to be almost as big a thrill as that one-hitter against the Phillies. Maybe it was bigger (Roy chuckled), for you know how we pitchers love to hit. After the appendicitis and flu in 1934 I won 10 and lost 6, and held out for more money in 1935. Although I won 14 and lost 10 that year, I don’t think Terry ever forgave me for wanting more money. At any rate he needed a second baseman and St. Louis needed a pitcher so in December 1935 he traded Phil Weintraub and me to the Cardinals for Burgess Whitehead.”

Parmelee had a chance to get back at Terry and the Giants shortly after the 1936 season started. On April 29 he hooked up in a hurling duel with his former slabmate, King Carl Hubbell. The game was scoreless until the 12th inning when the Giants got one run off Roy. However, the Cards came right back to tie it up and the game went on to the 17th before the Cards pulled it out 2-1. Parmelee and Hubbell both went the distance, but Roy had the edge, giving up only six hits while Carl gave up 11. It wasn’t easy beating Hubbell in 1936 for he won his last 16 games in a row, plus 8 at the start of the 1937 season.

“When I first went over to St. Louis in 1936, Dizzy Dean worked out a slogan — `Paul and me and Parmelee’ — which he said would take us to the pennant. It didn’t. We tied for second place, though. I pitched pretty well, but there wasn’t too much hitting, and I settled for 11 wins and 11 losses. Frankie Frisch was a good manager. He could bawl you out all right, but he wasn’t as tough as McGraw.

After the 1936 season Parmelee was traded with Rip Collins to the Cubs for Lon Warneke. “The Chicago fans,” he said, “never thought much of that trade. Collins didn’t finish the year for the Cubs, while I won 7 and lost 8. Meanwhile over in St. Louis, Warneke won 20 games. Though it wasn’t a good year for me, Gabby Hartnett was probably the best catcher I ever had. I wished I could have pitched to him regularly.”

“But no matter who was catching me, the toughest hitters I ever faced were the Waner brothers. They were the hardest to fool because they were not free-swingers. Lloyd was a streak when he ran to first. He would beat the ball into the ground and it was just a question as to which of the two of you would get to first first, even though you had only half the distance to go.”

“As for Paul, most everyone knows he usually had a drink or two before a game. Not much, just a little. He was a different player with a drink in him. We used to go over and talk to him before a game to see if he’d had a drink. If he had a drink he’d pull the ball to right; if not he’d hit to left. So we’d pitch him just the opposite depending on whether or not he had a drink. Not that it made a great deal of difference,” Roy added with a laugh.

Following the 1937 season with the Cubs, Parmelee was sold to Minneapolis. In 1938 he led in bases on balls and set an American Association record by making 22 wild pitches, but over-all, he had a good year under Miller Manager Donie Bush, winning 17 and losing 13. This interested Connie Mack, who brought him back to the big leagues for one final brief fling in 1939. “That may have been my most frustrating year in baseball,” Roy commented. “I don’t see how anyone could win with that club. I pitched some of the best games of my life for the Athletics and wound up one and six. But Connie Mack was one of the best managers and finest gentlemen in the game. The experience was worth it just for that.”

Parmelee left the A’s in 1939 and joined Louisville, helping the Colonels win the American Association pennant. He is still justly proud of his Kentucky Colonel Award, presented to him by the governor of the state for his role in leading the club to the championship. He remained there in 1940 and spent his last two years in Organized Baseball in 1941 and 1942 right where he had begun his career — with the Toledo Mudhens. He worked as a tool and die maker during World War II and then became an insurance salesman in Monroe, Michigan, where he has made his home for 30 years.

Mrs. Parmelee, whom Roy married in 1932, was a fellow student of his in the 1925 class at Lambertville (Michigan) High School, not far from Detroit where they both grew up. She taught history for many years in Monroe High School. While the two have been active in civic and masonic affairs in Monroe, recent years have been troubled ones for Roy due to arthritis. It attacked his right hip 20 years ago — perhaps a delayed reaction to the pounding it took in those years of hard throwing — and has steadily worsened. He has difficulty walking and no longer drives a car. Still the 74-year old former fireballer has many happy memories from his years in baseball, one of which he described.

“This occurred when I first came out on the playing surface at old Swayne Field in Toledo. As a country boy it really got to me, being in a park which seemed to me then so large. It was a joy just to be there. You know, a scout once told me after my baseball years, that if I had come along in the bonus or free agent age, throwing as hard as I did, I would have been worth a million dollars, at least compared to some of the hard throwers of today. I signed for nothing. I was tickled to death to get a uniform. Today’s salaries are ridiculous. We played the game for the fun of it. The income was necessary, yes, but we played for fun.”

Editor’s note: Mr. Parmelee, the subject of this interview, died August 31, 1981.

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