An interview with baseball scout George Digby

This article was written by Ron Anderson

Editor’s note: This interview with baseball scout George Digby appeared in “Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession” (SABR, 2011), edited by Jim Sandoval and Bill Nowlin. The interview was conducted on January 18, 20, and 29, 2007.

By Ron Anderson

RA: You’re a former scout of the Boston Red Sox.

George Digby and Ted WilliamsGD: Yes. I started with them in 1946. So I’ve been with them for a long time. [I] signed over 50 big leaguers. Wade Boggs, [he’s] in the Hall of Fame. Milt Bolling was the first one I signed. He went to the big leagues, and I signed, well, 49 after that. I signed Mike Greenwell and Dalton Jones. Bob Tillman, Bob Montgomery. Jody Reed. I can’t remember ‘em all right now.

Faye Throneberry got to the big leagues in two years. I signed him as a high-school guy, and he got to the big leagues in two years. Ted Williams was having trouble with his wife at that time and didn’t report. They were split up and they had trouble with the settlement. He stayed out of baseball for about a month before they settled it, at the beginning of the year, and Faye Throneberry started in Ted Williams’ place. He did very well.

RA: Well, I also wanted to talk to you a little bit about not only your scouting experiences. … I’m writing a book on a fellow that Milt Bolling and former Red Sox scout Ed Scott signed and they said that you participated in the signing of George Scott. Do you remember that?

GD: Yes. Ed was just coming on with us at that time. I was helping him out and we went to Mississippi. He couldn’t stay in the Holiday Inns, or anything. They … all the blacks weren’t able to get in. They couldn’t eat at any of the dining areas, or anything. They had a hell of a time. It was all over the South. I went to Greenville. I stayed in the Holiday Inn there. But he couldn’t get in. I sneaked him in to my room a couple of times while we were down there [laughs]. So I had him go stay with the Scott family. We signed [George] Scott. Of course he was his first big-league player and I wasn’t trying to take any credit for him.

GD: [I wanted to] sign Blue Moon Odom. Everybody was after him. [Charlie] Finley came down and he finally signed him, but Ed Scott says, “Well, we’re going to stay at Blue Moon’s house” just like he did at George Scott’s house. So he stayed at Blue Moon’s house [laughs].

RA: And with regard to George Scott, Ed Scott had to stay at George’s house.

GD: Yes.

RA: Do you remember anything at all about the signing? Were you there when the signing took place?

 GD: Well, no. I left to sign Bob Montgomery at the same time. I signed Bob Montgomery the same day. I had an appointment with him. Bob was in Nashville, Tennessee. But I told [Ed] Scott what to do. He didn’t have any problem. He was worried about making the contract … making it out, you know. He never made one out before. I showed him how to do it and he didn’t have any problem. I talked to George Scott. He was “The Boomer.” He was a shortstop, did you know that?

RA: Yes.

GD: He was a shortstop and they moved him over to first base. I said to Milt Bolling … I said he’s going to wind up being a first baseman. They’re going to put him at third, and that’s exactly what happened.

RA: Why did you think he’d be a first baseman?

GD: Well, he had good hands. He was big. He didn’t move as well as he could for another in elder [position], you know. And we started getting [him] good food … he wasn’t getting any good food [before signing with the Red Sox]. He wasn’t that big, but when he started getting that good food [laughs] he got bigger, you know?

RA: Was weight always a problem with George?

GD: I think he had to watch his weight quite a bit. I have a picture of him in a magazine they sent me not so long ago, and he was pretty big then.

RA: What was it about George Scott that you as a scout liked?

GD: Well, Ed saw him and told me about him. He told me what he could do. I said, “Well, let’s go … we’ll go look at him.” And I said to him, “You got a good one.” I said, “He’s a good one.”

RA: Where did you see him play?

GD: Well, he played in a little town … it was an all-black community up in somewhere in Mississippi. I can’t think of the name of it. It was an all-black community. They played there. I remember driving up in my car to see him play and I saw all these buses coming along with black people in it. And I went to the coach and talked to the coach. And I said to the coach, “Is my car going to be safe out there?” He said, “Oh yeah, you won’t have to worry about it.” And it was safe. And that’s when I first saw him play at shortstop.

RA: Was he in high school at that time?

GD: Yeah, oh yes.

RA: And what were they, playing another high-school team?

GD: Another high-school team, yeah. An all-black community.

RA: And what did you see in George that day?

GD: Oh, I saw great hands. He had great hands. He played short and he moved better then because he wasn’t as heavy. And he moved pretty good and had real good assets, and swung the bat good. He had power.

RA: He got a few hits that day?

GD: Yes, he did.

RA: Any long “taters” like he likes to call ’em?

GD: No he didn’t hit [laughs] … I guess he hit one pretty good. I think he got a triple that day.

 

[Interview continues on a subsequent day]

 

RA: George, I think when I talked to you the other day you said you were 90 years of age now?

GD: I’ll be 90 this year.

RA: What is your date of birth?

GD: It’s August 31, 1917.

RA: And you currently live in Nashville, Tennessee?

GD: Yeah, live in Nashville. [Before that] 40 years in Florida. All over Florida, different places.

RA: So how long have you lived in Nashville?

GD: Oh, we’ve been here now six or seven years, I guess.

RA: I wanted to ask you, when did you first get into baseball, George?

GD: Well, I got into baseball at LSU in the late ’30s, but I … in a wrestling match, I hurt my knee and I wasn’t able to play anymore. I could have signed out of high school with the Cardinals, but my daddy wanted me, uh … since I had a free scholarship to go to LSU, he wanted me to take that. And so he ruled the roost and I had to go to LSU. And I injured myself, and I came back [home]. I started working around New Orleans, but then I got a chance to coach at Holy Cross High School. I went over there in ’42, ’43, and ’44.

RA: In New Orleans?

GD: In New Orleans, is where the Red Sox hired me, yeah. I had three championship teams in New Orleans. I had a pitcher on my team that everybody wanted. I took him into Detroit, and when I was in Detroit, I met the Red Sox people. George Toporcer was the scouting director at that time. He played in the old Cardinal gang with the … Hornsby. He played shortstop when [Rogers] Hornsby was the second baseman. He was a good baseball man.

He had bad eyes and that’s what messed him up. He had quite a few operations on his eyes. But, anyhow, he came to New Orleans with Eddie Collins, who was the general manager at Boston then, to try and sign this boy. And I had been in Detroit, and he asked me, could I get him in a game? I got him in a game, and they liked him. And they wanted me to try to help him sign [with the Red Sox]. Well at that time, the highest price ever paid a high school player was $12,500. And this guy got $15,000.

RA: Who was this?

GD: Dick Callahan. But anyhow, I drove ’em to the house, and after they signed him I drove ’em back. At that time we was all riding by trains. We were using trains back then in the ’40s [laughs]. So I drove ’em to the train station, and on the way back he [Toporcer] and Collins said to me, “Would you like to go to work for us? We liked the way you handled that case.” And I said, “I’d love it.” So he said, “Well, we’re going to have a contract in the mail for you pretty soon, and I’m going to give you a percentage of what we gave that boy.” So they did that and then they [Red Sox] hired me. I was the first scout ever to be hired in the South.

Of course, everything I was telling you [we did] by train in those days, and in ’44 you couldn’t get enough gas for your car to go too far [because of war rationing], and there were ve trains going out of New Orleans, and I could use those ve trains to scout with, which was really a big help to me.

RA: You said you went up to Detroit…

GD: Well, Wish Egan was a scout for Detroit. He signed [Hal] Newhouser and a lot of those good players. But anyhow, he invited me up and I went up by train to Detroit. And Detroit happened to be playing Boston that day, and the Red Sox saw him work out along with Detroit, and they called [me at] the hotel that night and wanted to know if I would give them [a chance to] see him pitch in a game, and which I did. So I cooperated with them and I guess they liked it.

RA: He [Dick Callahan] was a pitcher?

 GD: He was a pitcher, a right-handed pitcher.

GD: His name was Aloysius, they called him Wish Egan. And he wanted me later, after – he didn’t know that I had worked with the Red Sox – he wanted me to go with Detroit. But I’m very happy that I went with Boston.

RA: And then coming back, you went with Eddie Collins and he expressed interest in you being a scout [for the Red Sox]. 

 GD: I met them [Collins and Toporcer] in New Orleans and got a friend of mine that had a team that played every Sunday, and I got him [Callahan] to pitch on that team, and that’s when they saw him.

RA: Backing up a little bit, you said you were a coach with the high-school team down in New Orleans? 

 GD: Yes … Holy Cross High School. Three years. I won three years in a row. City and state.

RA: And it was from there that you went to the Red Sox. Did you find it particularly difficult to be scouting during the war years? 

 GD: It was difficult to me when I started out.

RA: What did you find to be a challenge? 

 GD: Well I didn’t have the experience so what I did was I hung around with the old scouts, and let some of that rub off on me, and it did rub off.

At the high-school playoffs in Birmingham, Alabama, Milt Bolling was playing there. All the scouts were interested in him. [Bolling’s mother] said he’s going to Auburn University. They all told me … they all called me “kid” at that time: “So, kid, there’s no used to fooling with him, he’s going to Auburn.” But I just took my car and drove down to Mobile, Alabama, and after convincing his mother that he could go to school six months and play baseball six months, I finally signed him. Milt will tell you the story on that.

RA: It sounds like you signed him away from some other scouts.

GD: I signed him away from all of them. After that I got a little respect [with emphasis].

RA: Do you remember some of the scouts who were competing with you?

GD: Bill Pierre was with Detroit at that time. Johnny Nee was with the Philadelphia Phillies. That was two of them. All of them were experienced. Eddie Goosetree, with the Cardinals, I believe. There wasn’t any young scouts around at that time. They were old-time ball players, or, just, you know, or through the management or something like that.

GD: I had competition on a lot of people; Faye Throneberry, for example.

RA: Do you remember who your closest competitor was?

GD: Atley Donald was a good scout. He was a Yankee pitcher years ago. He pitched when Spud Chandler and people like that pitched. Joe McCarthy was the manager with the Yankees at that time. But he came on as a scout after me, because he hurt his arm in the big leagues, and [when] he came out [of baseball] they put him out as a scout.

GD: All these people were after Throneberry, but … it’s a little secret, but I’ll tell you: I went ahead and did something for the mother, and that’s how I got in with the family.

RA: So you found that kind of working closely with the families was a help.

GD: Yes.

RA: I remember Ed Scott saying something like that to me as well with some of the players that he had signed.

Scout George Digby with Ted Williams and commissioner Happy ChandlerGD: I taught Ed Scott how to go in a house and stay with ’em when he couldn’t get into the hotels … couldn’t get into the motels. In those days blacks couldn’t get into either restaurants or hotels in the South.

He discovered him [George Scott]. I don’t want to take anything away from him. I had to go see him before he signed because he was a new scout and they didn’t know how good he was, and I had to go see the player. I went to see him twice. He was a shortstop then. He had enough ability to be a prospect and a chance to be a big leaguer which he nally did. And he improved himself along the way because he had good coaching, I guess, in the minor leagues that helped him.

He had real good hands. He ran all right when he was young but he slowed up, of course, a bit when he put extra weight on, but, uh … he swung the bat good. I liked the way he swung the bat. Lot of power. I didn’t know. But when he got away from pickin’ cotton, like he did, I guess he would eat a lot better when he got in baseball.

Ed Scott stayed with them. He stayed at his house, George’s house. I think he [George] got around $6,000. As I say, I didn’t discover him and I didn’t sign him, because I had other people myself I was trying to nd … trying to get at that time.

RA: As far as George Scott is concerned, when you were in Greenville [Mississippi], did you get any feeling at all of racial tension going on down there at that time?

GD: Yeah, that’s where he’s from, yeah, Greenville, Mississippi. He played against an all-black team when I saw him. And it was an all-black town at that time. I can’t think of the name of it.

RA: Earlier you had mentioned your own baseball background that … did you say that you had a scholarship?

GD: I had a scholarship to LSU. I played at Jesuit High in New Orleans from 1932 to 1936, and they saw me in state championship games, and gave me a scholarship. For baseball and basketball. I went to LSU, but I injured my knee on the wrestling mat wrestling another guy – which I shouldn’t have been doing – and when I got hurt, they found out how [hurt] it was, [and] they took me off the dining table. You know, you’d get everything free, so I just stuck to it and got my education because they give me a scholarship.

RA: Did you lose any part of that scholarship?

GD: No, no.

RA: Because of the knee injury were you able to play any sports?

GD: No, my knee got better, but it didn’t get that [much] better, you know. It was one of those things where I couldn’t play sports, but I could walk and do other things, you know. Back in those days they didn’t believe … they didn’t know anything about operations, or anything [that would repair injury]. Back in those days they just rubbed you a little bit with Sloan’s Liniment or something like that.

RA: So after college what did you do?

GD: I worked for a rm when I left there. I was coaching on the side when I was working [at the rm]. I was helping a lot of boys play [baseball]. They asked me to come in and help out when the coach didn’t know much about baseball. [So] I come in and helped his team to a win or two. Like I said they gave me a full-time job in ’42, ’43, and ’44.

RA: At the high school …

GD: At the high school. At Holy Cross. And we won three city and state championships in a row. I had good players.

RA: Anybody that went on to the pros?

GD: Well several of them went on to the pros, with other clubs because I wasn’t working for anybody [in pro ball] then. But in 1944 when they [Red Sox] hired me, I helped them sign a lot of players.

RA: Any you remember by name?

GD: Well, one was Ray Dunn, Ted Mace, Lenny Yochim … He turned out to be a scout himself, but he got to the big leagues in Pittsburgh. And Callahan, I told you before about him, that’s how I got the job [with the Red Sox].

RA: Before you took that high-school job were you were working at some place, or some company?

GD: Yeah, I worked at the Public Service, they called it. The name of the place is Public Service. I worked with them checking the books of the people [regarding] the electricity, and all that would come in. I had to check everything. It was in New Orleans, also.

I signed three players in 1944 after I went to work with the Red Sox. Ballplayer by the name of Lenny Lunna, he’s a shortstop. [Probably Lennie Luke] He was a pretty good shortstop and went up the line a little bit. I think he had an injury. Not too long ago we had a reunion of all of our teams, and he died right after that. Ted Mace and Lenny Yochim.

RA: What was it you liked about Throneberry when you saw him?

GD: He could do everything. He could run, and … the only thing I didn’t like about him was [that] he wasn’t a good fielder, but I figured I’d rather have that than anything else, because they can help you field. Like Greenwell … Greenwell impressed me like Throneberry. Greenwell could do everything, but he was a bad fielder. Somehow or other they learn how to field after being around guys – big leaguers – for a while. They learn how to fi eld, you know. They can improve their fielding better than they can anything else. Put it that way.

RA: When you were a scout, were you looking for hitting over fielding, fielding over hitting, or obviously, both?

GD: My big theory was … I learned when I was a batboy in New Orleans, and Larry Gilbert told me one day … he was managing the New Orleans Pelicans. Zeke Bonura let a ball go through his legs and, I said, “Zeke can’t field.” Larry Gilbert told me – who was the manager of the team – “George, a big bat will cover up a lot of mistakes.” And that’s the truth. A big bat will cover up a lot of mistakes. And I used that theory as mine as I scouted. I went for the hitters more than I did anything else.

RA: Revisiting your first signing …

GD: Milt Bolling was one of the first. I was awful picky at that time. I wanted to make sure if I got somebody for the Red Sox, I got a good one, you know.

RA: Who was your boss, was that Eddie Collins?

GD: Eddie Collins was the general manager. But he died and Joe Cronin took over. I had to report to George Toporcer. The one I told you played with Rogers Hornsby. Scouting director and minor-league director, both. He was a wonderful man and I learned an awful lot from him. And he was proud of me … He lived into his 90s and he was proud of me because of the ballplayers I would sign. And he and I corresponded. He got to be blind and had to be helped around. Lived in New York. He went to school with James Cagney.

It’s been in all the magazines and the books, all about me with Willie Mays. You know the story of Willie Mays? I had Willie Mays bought off the Birmingham Black Barons. We were in Birmingham at that time with the Birmingham white club we, uh … was affiliated with Boston. And the Birmingham Black Barons would use our ballpark there in Birmingham. Willie Mays is on a team and a friend of mine in Birmingham told me I oughta go look at Willie Mays play. I went and looked at Willie Mays play and I said, “Well, this guy’s got a lot of ability.” He was a skinny kid at that time, but he could do everything.

So I went to the general manager of the Birmingham Black Barons, and said to him, “How much would you want for Willie Mays?” And he said $4,000. So I told our people what I could get [him for], but they didn’t want to break the color line. The Phillies and the Red Sox were the last to break the color line. And they didn’t want Willie Mays and you know what Willie Mays turned out to be.

RA: Who was it that you talked to at the Red Sox that didn’t want to break the color line?

GD: Who was it? The official owners and the people runnin’ it. Bob Carpenter of the Phillies, and [Tom] Yawkey had said – they lived close to each other in the wintertime – and they said that they weren’t going to break the color line. So they hurt themselves by not breaking the color line.

RA: So he and Tom Yawkey got together and agreed they wouldn’t break the color line.

GD: That’s right.

RA: And who told you this?

GD: It was obvious. They told me that when they told me they couldn’t [purchase Mays], they didn’t like … They sent somebody else down to look at him but he come back … they sent somebody down there. They turned him down. You couldn’t turn a player like that down!

RA: So you said somebody from the Red Sox sent somebody down to look at [Willie Mays]?

GD: Yeah. There’s a fellow right now who remembers this as well as I do that used to be with the Birmingham front office, and he’s a little younger than I am. But he lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Bob Scranton’s his name.

I was scouting the Southern League then, but I had the day off. I took the day off to see him … to see them play. The Red Sox were affiliated with the Birmingham Barons. Rickwood Field. They [Birmingham Barons] owned the ballpark. They didn’t call them the “white” barons. They just called them the Barons. The other team – the black team – called themselves the Birmingham Black Barons.

RA: So you had a chance to see him [Willie Mays] there, and you liked what you saw, and you must have called somebody at the Red Sox.

GD: I called Joe Cronin.

RA: And Cronin sent somebody down to look at him.

GD: I told him I had a chance to buy him. He said, “Well …” And I knew when they told me they wanted to send somebody down, I knew that they … and when they turned him down, I knew they weren’t interested. That was the reason why, because we hadn’t broken the color line. That was it.

RA: Did Cronin actually send somebody down, or did they just tell you they weren’t interested?

GD: No, they said, “We’ll send somebody down and look at him.” Well, you know, they sent somebody down to look at him [who] didn’t have that much experience in scouting. At the time he was a pitching coach. They just told him what to say, that’s all it was. He turned him down. And it was a while before we took a black player. It was Pumpsie Green was the first black player we took. But he couldn’t play. I mean he wasn’t that kind of a player.

GD: I knew the reason. It had to be color. Everybody knew. It’s just the unwritten rule, that’s all.

RA: And then you were a consultant with the Red Sox.

GD: I was a consultant for about five years or so. After I retired they gave me a new car and told me they’d like to have me help the young scouts, which I did. I haven’t been with any other club.

RA: Do you remember any other players that you might have been able to sign but lost to another club?

GD: Oh yeah, money would beat you out of some players that you didn’t have a chance. Jake Gibbs. He was a $100,000 player. I wasn’t going to give him that much money. I wasn’t going to okay that much money. I never gave a player that much money in my whole career. I signed ballplayers … Wade Boggs for $7,500. Mike Smithson, a good lookin’ pitcher, I signed him for $12,500. Stuff like that, you know. Mike Greenwell, $15,000. Jody Reed, $15,000.

RA: How much did you sign Wade Boggs for?

GD: $7,500 plus a college scholarship.

RA: About Wade Boggs: what did you see in Wade Boggs?

GD: Well, I liked his bat, like I was telling you. I’m a guy [who] believes a big bat will cover up a lot of mistakes, and he wasn’t that good a elder, either. But I liked his bat, the way he swung his bat. They tried to take Boggs off of my list – the Scouting List – and I said, “Don’t take him off, leave him on and take him when you can.” Because the Bureau … the Scouting Bureau had turned him down. And they were going on the Scouting Bureau’s reports, you see. Of course I had a lot of experience and I had a lot of push up over them. I said, “You just leave Wade Boggs in,” and they took him. And you know what he turned out to be. [laughs] The Red Sox never did take anybody out of my area that I didn’t like.

RA: Indeed. The Scouting Bureau …

GD: The Scouting Bureau represented all the clubs in baseball, and they had scouts going around. They were trying to see they wouldn’t miss anybody. They were turning the guys in that weren’t worth it, just to get names in [on the list] and stuff like that. They were putting prices on guys, and everything, you know, that most of the old scouts – like myself, at that time, experienced scouts – didn’t like it.

I liked it before they ever had a draft. And then when they had a draft for a little while … and [after that] they put the Scouting Bureau in. All of them [major-league clubs] had to agree to it, and they agreed. Each club paid so much, you know. As a matter of fact, the Scouting Bureau asked me to go to work for them. I told ’em I wasn’t interested in going to work for the Scouting Bureau. I was representing the Red Sox all my life.

They covered all the United States. I wouldn’t doubt that some of them were good, you know. I’m not knocking all of them, but they had some that didn’t know what they were talking about. One scout put [Boggs] in, and another scout came in and looked at him and turned him down, and that’s when my people said, “Well, the Bureau turned him down.” And I said, “I don’t give a damn what the Bureau said,” I said, “I want to keep him in.” I don’t know if anybody would have liked him as well as I did. We took him – I think – in the sixth round. [Ed. note: Boggs was selected in the seventh round.]

RA: So if he was not on the Scouting Bureau’s list, it’s possible he may never have been picked up by a major-league team.

GD: That’s right. At the same time, some scouts … some teams are weak on the individual scouts and they [teams] relied on the Bureau [to list the talent]. But other scouts – like the Red Sox – we [Red Sox] kept all of our people [scouts] and we went mostly on their opinion. I didn’t think he was a real high draft, but I thought he was a worthwhile draft because there was some things I liked about him.

I enjoyed scouting before the draft. The draft was all right, but [before] you could go out and get your players, which [after the draft was introduced] you had to wait. When you were scouting on your own and didn’t have a draft you could get in with the family and even make a deal with the people.

RA: And the draft was [introduced] in 1965, wasn’t it?

GD: Yeah I think so, ’64 was the last year of free agent. I just went about my regular scouting. And I never worried about what the Bureau said. They [Red Sox] never [were going to] tell me what the Bureau says. I said, “I don’t care what the Bureau says.” That’s your opinion. You do what you want. But if they disagreed with me then I had to fight for my rights.

[Laughs] I got a bunch of stories. There’s Bob Scranton … He was with the white Birmingham Barons. And he knows the story about trying to sign him [Mays], and Eddie Glennon and I called Joe Cronin. He can tell you the whole story. Eddie Glennon was the general manager at Birmingham.

But, anyhow, you were talkin’ about Eddie Collins. What’s the guy they threw out of baseball because he took the money in 1919? Shoeless Joe Jackson. Shoeless Joe Jackson was on the same club with Eddie Collins, and Eddie Collins told me all about him and the different things that happened, you know. Eddie Collins got to like me. We used to bet each other on bowl games. There used to be four “super bowls” … the Rose Bowl … there used to be four bowls at one time. And we’d bet on the games, you know, just a dollar a bet. Eddie Collins liked me and I was sorry he ever died [laughs]. Because when you get somebody that likes you, particularly a guy as high as he was [in baseball, and with the Red Sox], he was great with me.

RA: What was the name of your book?

GD: Baseball For Boys, by George Digby. 1960. My wife saved a couple of copies. We gave all other copies we had away.

RA: [George began to talk about his experience with Ty Cobb just after I had stopped taping, so I quickly began taping again] Ty Cobb … yeah.

GD: Yeah. He got to be a millionaire with Coca-Cola.

RA: Where did you meet him?

GD: I met him in Atlanta, Georgia.

RA: He was in an elevator?

GD: At the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel.

RA: And he grabbed your arm …

GD: He grabbed my arm and told me to come sit down with him. I was sitting down with him and those ashes, light ashes … they were taking all kind of pictures [of me] with Cobb [laughing].

RA: And he said to you, what was that [again]?

GD: “Do you want to be a millionaire? I will show you how to be a millionaire.”

RA: And that was based on stock …

GD: Coca-Cola stock. I was a poor boy trying to raise a family and where the hell was I going to get money to buy Coca-Cola stock?

RA: What were you doing at the time, professionally?

GD: What was I doing there? I was at the meeting, the baseball meeting.

RA: Were you a scout at that time?

GD: Oh yeah.

RA: And you say that you also knew Mel Ott.

GD: Mel Ott. His name is in my book. His picture and Bill Dickey’s picture on the cover of the book, and on the back cover of the book. They told how well the book was written, it’s good for young men, and all that stuff.

 

[The following is a continuation of my interview with George Digby, by phone, on January 29, 2007. He started the interview by recounting his recent – January 26 – meeting with “old ballplayers” and scouts in Nashville.]

 

GD: They picked me up. I don’t drive at night. They picked me up and bring me there and bring me back. One of the old-time guys. A professor at Vanderbilt. He was a professor at Vanderbilt and now he’s retired. And every now and then I have a scout pick me up. Friday night we had it, at the hotel. Over 300 people. It was at the old Maxwell House. It used to be the Maxwell House downtown. This is the new one. This is an awful big place. R.A. Dickey, that’s a pitcher, he’s from Nashville. They gave him the job. I spoke there about ten years ago. I was the central speaker ten years ago. People from all different teams were there. I had about ve or six of the boys that I signed were there. It was a good affair.

I have the book right here … yeah, I just use that when I give a speech. I don’t give many anymore but I used to give ’em pretty well when I was younger. And, it told about when my daddy took me to the ballpark when I was eight years old, and the Yankees were in town. They trained in New Orleans in 1925. That was before they went to St. Petersburg. And the owner of the team – a fellow by the name of Heinemann. My daddy knew him and introduced me to him, and asked me if I wanted to be a batboy. And that’s how I got to be a batboy. 1925. He was an old Jewish fellow. They named a ballpark after him. He had the money … Alex, Alex Heinemann.

I became a batboy. New Orleans Pelicans. As a matter of fact, the teachers at the school knew I was a batboy and instead of getting off [school] at three o’clock, they’d let me off a little earlier because the games would start at three o’clock. They didn’t have any lights at that time, you know. Lights didn’t come in until 10 or 15 years later, I guess. I was a batboy for many years, until I started playing ball, I guess. We played some of our games there when I was in high school and American Legion ball. A matter of fact, in 1934 we went to the World Series in Chicago and played in Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. American Legion ball. I was 17 years old then.

RA: Did you win it?

GD: No, we got beat by a fellow … with two men out in the ninth inning a fellow dropped a popup that let the winning run in. We all had a good time with the exception … except him, I guess. The World’s Fair was in Chicago at that time. We all … they took u all to the World’s Fair. So we got to see something new [inaudible]. They were all kids like us, you know. 1934. And they killed [John] Dillinger right down the street from us. Well, they killed Dillinger and they put his body out for view out in the … to try and scare the other racketeers, put it right on display.

RA: Did this happen while you were up there [in Chicago]?

GD: Yeah.

RA: In other words the shooting occurred when you were up there.

GD: Yeah. He came out of a theater and got shot. It was all planned. There was a girl [Polly Hamilton] who was with him and he came out … the movie we went to see the next night was Manhattan Melodrama.

RA: Manhattan Melodrama?

GD: Yeah, that was the name of the movie.

RA: And that’s the one you saw, as well?

GD: Yeah, that’s the one we saw.

RA: Did you see his body?

GD: No we didn’t go. … They had it kinda roped off a little bit, but our coach didn’t want us to go see anything like that. Well, you know when I was batboy, I kind of graduated to clubhouse boy … assistant clubhouse boy and then I sat next to the manager, Larry Gilbert, who … I played with his sons in high school. He was the manager. He’s an ex-big leaguer. Played on the Miracle Team in Boston [1914 Miracle Braves] … 

RA: Did you ever play on the Pelicans?

GD: No I didn’t play with them. When Heinemann died they changed it to Pelican Stadium.

RA: You saw Mel Ott play …

GD: You know it was at some exhibition games after the season was over and I got to see a number of them play then. What I did see … I’m the only scout, I know, that saw this happen – the only time it ever happened in baseball, where lightning struck a player and killed him on the field. I was scouting then. That was Alexandria, Louisiana. I was there scouting in Crowley, Louisiana … Anyhow, the lightning came down in center field. It was a drizzly rain and they was trying to get the game in, the lightning came down and hit his … what do you call it, the little metal seal on the cap … the button. The guy’s name was Andy Strong. I don’t know whether this is of any interest to you or not, but he’s the only baseball player ever killed by lightning. The team that they were playing … they took off all the buttons on their caps [laughs] the next day. They were afraid of the lightning coming down and getting them.

Like I said, Eddie Collins was responsible for me going with the Red Sox and I got to be pretty friendly with him back in the mid-’40s. I asked him about Shoeless Joe Jackson. He played on the same [White Sox] team in 1919, the World Series.

RA: The Black Sox team.

GD: Yeah. He told me that … he said, that he didn’t think Shoeless Joe Jackson knew what they were giving him money for. Because he hit .375 in the [1919] World Series and hit a couple of home runs, but he took the money … In other words, he said he was offered money, so he took it.

RA: But he really wasn’t sure …

GD: Eddie Collins didn’t think he knew he really knew it was … knew what was going on.

RA: Did you know Hornsby?

GD: No. He was before my time. I saw him … I never met him, but I saw him one time in Chicago at a kids’ game that I went to scout. They had kids from all over the country that were picked by the newspaper people, and they came [to Chicago] and then played the game. My boss asked me to go up there and check the game out and see if we could get any players out of the game, you know. He wasn’t involved. He just came over to look at it. But I heard people say, “That’s Rogers Hornsby.” Otherwise I wouldn’t have known who he was.

RA: Are there any other stories you can remember?

GD: Well, I’m looking through this thing [notebook] for something you might be interested in: I started out scouting and at that time we had meetings every year. They had what you called Winter Baseball Meetings like they still have. They put me with the oldest guy, Jack Egan. I was the youngest [scout] and he was the oldest [scout]. We stayed at the Deschler-Wallick Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. That was the name of the hotel. He [Jack Egan] was my roommate. As I said I was youngest. I walked into the room, took the money out of my pockets, and put it on the dresser. And he looked at me and says, “Kid, you’re doing it wrong.” Back in those days they just had a skeleton key to open and close hotel doors. They didn’t have these fancy locks like they’ve got now. But, he said, “This is the way you gotta do it.” And he had his pajama top on and he pulls money out of the wallet and threw his wallet alongside my money on the dresser, and rolled the money up his sleeves all the way above his elbow. He said, “Now they gotta cut your damned arm off to get it.” [laughs] He was 80 years old at the time [laughs]. He was a pitcher in the old Outlaw League they had back in those days. The Federal League, yeah.

RA: Who was he a scout for?

GD: He scouted for the Red Sox. This is all Red Sox people together. It was a Red Sox [group at the Major League Baseball] winter meeting. All the clubs in baseball were there.

RA: When you were scouting for the Red Sox, what was your territory?

GD: When I started out I was the first scout ever hired by the Red Sox in the South, and I had the whole South; Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. Because I was the only guy … first guy they ever hired [to scout the South]. Later on … I did sign a big leaguer out of every one of those states. Later on I hired a black guy … we hired a black guy by the name of Ed Scott. And he went all over because he was scouting only the black guys. Then Milt Bolling came in as a scout, so we had the [Southern] territory divided up. I spent 40 years in Florida. I had a good territory at that time … Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

RA: When you hired Ed Scott – the black scout – was there any particular reason for hiring a black scout?

GD: Why did we hire him? Well, Milt Bolling saw him in Mobile and told me if we’re going to hire a black fellow he thought he’d be worthwhile, so I talked to my boss about it and we hired him.

RA: So you were trying to break the color line.

GD: Yeah. We should have broke the color line with players sooner than we did. That’s what our problem was. But we missed out on Willie Mays. We had Willie Mays. I told you all of that.

RA: Yes, you did. I was curious about your hiring Ed Scott as to what the motivation was by the Red Sox.

GD: Well, Bolling had played some baseball after the season was over, and [Ed] Scott was there. He got familiar with Scott and he thought he would be a good one. And that’s why we hired him. We told Boston we thought it would help us to get a black scout, which it did.

RA: What did you think about Joe Cronin?

GD: Well, I thought he was a good hitter, just a fair manager, and I thought he was a fair executive man …

RA: General manager?

GD: Yeah, general manager. But then he went over – for some reason they thought he would make a good president. They made him president of the American League. I had a better association with him when he was president of the American League than I did [when he was] with Boston.

I can give you a good story on a guy that … an old-timer by the name of Atz, Jake Atz. Jake Atz is a manager. He won a lot, a lot of pennants in Dixie Series [postseason series between champs of Texas League and Southern Association], as [manager for] Fort Worth … made six or seven [championships] in a row, something like that.

He told me this story himself. He said they paid off … you had to go up and get your money every week, and they’d pay you off in regular cash money. Back in those days they didn’t have any checks or anything, I guess. He said they paid [players] in alphabetical order, and, he said, “My name was Jake Zimmerman at that time.” And he said, “Zimmerman was last [to get paid],” and, he said, “A couple of times they got to me they didn’t have any money.” He says, “So I went to court and changed my name from Jake Zimmerman to Jake Atz,” he said, “and I got money from A to Z. That’s how I made my name,” he said, “I was right in the front line of getting my money after that.” He went to court to change his name … A to Z. He told that story [to me] himself.

 

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