Dick Schattinger and the Summer of ’42 (Page 2)

For the talented prospect, Casey’s offer constituted the opportunity of a lifetime. Dick would journey to the east coast and set foot in a big league diamond for the first time. Traveling by train in a Pullman compartment, Dick first disembarked in Hartford

For the talented prospect, Casey’s offer constituted the opportunity of a lifetime. Dick would journey to the east coast and set foot in a big league diamond for the first time. Traveling by train in a Pullman compartment, Dick first disembarked in Hartford for a week of orientation with the Bees, the Braves’ Eastern League farm team. Hartford was slow to drop the nickname abandoned by its parent in 1941.  While in the Connecticut capital, Dick briefly crossed paths with the team’s top pitching prospect, Warren Spahn.  After departing Hartford, Dick arrived in the Hub where he would stay until shortly after Labor Day.  Dick and Eddie roomed at the Hotel Buckminster in Boston‘s Kenmore Square for the first couple of months, with the entire tab being picked up by the Braves. Given the budgetary constraints of the team at the time, this arrangement proved too rich to bear and the roommates were signed to minor league contracts with small stipends that forced them to relocate to a rooming house a few blocks from the Square. That location was not without some notoriety as Red Sox slugger Ted Williams occasionally dated a female tenant.

 

Dick’s initial recollection of Braves Field was that it was “spacious” and “disjointed.”  As a “pre-rookie,” Dick and his gang would practice early, under the watchful eyes of the front office.  When the big leaguers took over the field, the group would be relegated to shagging batted balls.  Once, Dick got to throw batting practice to Casey Stengel as the Old Professor attempted to instruct one of his minions on proper bunting technique.  Perhaps the group’s greatest thrill was to be allowed to take pre-game infield practice on Labor Day, receiving a good hand from an unusually large home crowd.  When games were about to commence, Dick’s troop usually moved from the field to seats behind the third base dugout.  There was always plenty of room to move about as Stengel’s hapless seventh place team enticed only 285,000 hardcore fans to pass through Braves Field’s turnstiles.  Being raw prospects, Dick’s crew was treated politely but from a distance by the pros.  Utility infielder “Skippy” Roberge was the exception, talking and extending courtesies to the youngsters.  Dick’s treasured memories include watching the excruciatingly slow Ernie Lombardi capture the batting title and observing Jim Tobin’s dancing knuckleball. He can still recall hillbilly music wafting from a phonograph in the visitors’ dugout whenever the Cardinals came to town. When the Tribe went on the road, Dick and his buddies worked out at Braves Field in the morning and traveled down Commonwealth Avenue to catch Red Sox afternoon games at Fenway Park.  After observing the “Splendid Splinter” over the course over thirty such games that year, Dick concluded that “Ted Williams was the sweetest swinger I have ever seen. Period.”  The pre-rookie squad also would be taken on “field trips” by Braves long-time scout Jeff Jones to watch college games at Harvard and M.I.T.  While most of the names of this nonroster troop have faded from memory, one member of the crew went on to bigger and better things.  Ernie Johnson, who would pitch for the parent team in Boston and Milwaukee and serve as a broadcaster in Atlanta, was part of the squad and commenced his professional career in 1942 with a brief eight-game appearance with Hartford before being called to military service.  Dick’s west coast roomie, Eddie Buliavac, achieved some notoriety when his portrait appeared in The Boston Globe under the banner, “Double Trouble.”  Ambidextrous Eddie could bat or throw from either side!  Dick witnessed a number of unforgettable events at Braves Field during the summer of ’42.  He was on hand when “Big Poison” Paul Waner recorded his 3000th hit. Dick also saw shortstop Len Merullo commit four errors in one inning on the day the Cubs’ shortstop’s son (later aptly nicknamed “Boots”) was being born.  Dick was amazed by the dexterity exhibited by one-armed Pete Gray during a thirty-minute workout at the plate and in the field at the Wigwam.

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Originally published: November 8, 2004. Last Updated: November 8, 2004.

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