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Posts Tagged ‘Lou Gehrig’

Wonderful Rick Ferrell

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

It’s over 15 years since Rick Ferrell died, a few months shy of his 90th birthday.


Time hasn’t dimmed my memories of the dignified gentleman and Hall of Famer who worked in and for baseball until he was 87. The first time I met Ferrell was in 1983 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. It was the 50th anniversary of the very first All-Star Game, held in 1933 in the very same ballpark. All living members from the 1933 American League and National League squads who were healthy and able came to the festivities.


   Ferrell, who caught all nine innings of the inaugural event, was the Red Sox representative and batted in the same lineup that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He wore a Red Sox uniform that sunny day in 1983 for the old-timers game held the day before the All-Star Game.


We had a short chat and Ferrell posed for a picture. I didn’t know it then but it would mark the first of hundreds of conversations we’d have and the picture would be used in a biography published in 2010 titled Rick Ferrell, Knuckleball Catcher.


Ferrell was a baseball lifer. He had a stellar career as a catcher for the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators from 1929 through 1947. He called the pitches against and crouched behind the greats – Ruth, Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg.



Irwin Cohen took this photo of Rick Ferrell a day before

the 1983 All-Star Game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park



After his playing career, during which he posted a .281 average and was a defensive great, Ferrell took several positions with the Detroit Tigers. He stayed in uniform as a coach and then moved into the front office. He scouted, became head of the minor leagues and, eventually, general manager.


When I met him, Rick had the title of executive consultant for the Tigers. On the last day of December1992, Rick, 87 at the time, resigned.


I had joined the Tigers front office at the end of 1983, after about 10 years of covering the game and its people, and it was then that I really got to know Rick.


On days he wasn’t out of town scouting for possible trades or getting information on opposing hitters to convey to Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, Ferrell would be one of the early arrivals at Tiger Stadium.


Department heads would gather in the second floor dining room of the three- floored front office building attached to the stadium’s right field corner. About ten of us from the baseball and business side would gather around the large round table for the morning shmooze fest. Topics would include politics, current events and baseball.


I usually parked near or next to Ferrell on the days he’d be there. Many times before others arrived, I had him one-on-one. He never boasted, bragged or brought up the old days. I had to steer the conversation in that direction.


One morning I asked him about what kind of person Moe Berg was. Berg, if you recall, was also a catcher in the 1930s and later spied for the United States while on a baseball tour of Japan. Berg, who became the subject of several articles and books, was always known as baseball’s mystery man.


 “I roomed with Moe while we played for Boston,” Ferrell recalled. “He was the smartest man I ever met. We didn’t have air conditioning in the hotels in those days and we’d be outside most of the time. Not Moe; he’d stay in the bathtub as long as he could and had a bunch of newspapers on the rim to read. He didn’t want anyone to touch the papers before he read them. As far as friends on the team, he hung around the writers more, but we all liked him. He would have made a great coach as he was good at giving instruction to young players.”


Ferrell saw a lot of history while in uniform. He was a member of the visiting Washington Senators when Lou Gehrig made his famous goodbye speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939.


“When Lou finished and walked off the field,” Ferrell said, “he asked me, ‘How’d I do?’ I said, ‘You did great.’ I had tears in my eyes at the time. We all did, for Lou was such a wonderful man.”


Ferrell was the third base coach for the Tigers in 1951 when Eddie Gaedel, the little person who stood at 3-foot-seven, batted for the St. Louis Browns and walked on four pitches. While fans loved the publicity stunt cooked up by Browns owner Bill Veeck, Ferrell didn’t. “It was a travesty of the game,” he said.


Out of uniform, as the general manager of the Tigers in 1959, Ferrell swapped American League batting champ Harvey Kuenn to Cleveland for home run leader Rocky Colavito. The following year, Ferrell was behind the trading of Tigers manager Jimmie Dykes to Cleveland for Indians manager Joe Gordon.


   The baseball world was shocked – it was, and still remains, the only time teams have traded managers. Some 30 years later I asked Ferrell about and he explained the logic of it.


   “Bill DeWitt was my boss at the time,” he said. “He was tossing names around with Cleveland’s general manager Frank (Trader) Lane. I suggested they trade managers and they loved the idea. Our manager, Jimmie Dykes, was an old friend of mine and I knew DeWitt would let him go after the season. By going to Cleveland, Dykes would get another year or two.”


I always thought Ferrell’s life story would make a great book. Finally, a delightful lady from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Rick’s daughter, Kerrie Ferrell, wrote one. (Check out www.mcfarlandpub.com.)


*     *     *


Ronald Mayer has authored The 1923 New York Yankees (like the Ferrell bio, this book is published by McFarland), a great read about the team and the times.


The ’23 Yanks won the first of the franchise’s 27 World Championships and Mayer paints a beautiful picture of the players as the year progresses. Lou Gehrig made his debut in June, and, of course, that was the year Yankee Stadium opened.


During each of the three previous seasons (1920-1922), the Yankees had topped the million-attendance mark while their New York Giants landlords at the Polo Grounds did not. Babe Ruth was the main reason as he blasted 148 home runs during that span. Ruth out-homered the entire Giants team in two of those three years.


Sportswriter Fred Lieb tagged the colossal triple-decked new home of the Yankees “The House That Ruth Built.” Ruth responded by batting .393 in 1923 and blasting 41 home runs, a tremendous feat in the dead ball era.


As we follow the fortunes of the Yankees as they march to their first World Series victory, we learn that the average salary in the United States was $1,393 per year. Mayer also tells us that a first-class postage stamp in 1923 was two cents. A copy of the New York Daily News cost four cents, a loaf of bread was nine cents, a quart of milk 14 cents and a dozen eggs 24 cents.


*     *     *


Speaking of books, Maury Allen, best known in his role as sportswriter for the New York Post, died recently at age 78. Allen, who wrote 38 sports related books, was one of my columnists in the late 1970s when I operated a national baseball monthly.


Maury, a real mensch, gets a big mention in my upcoming book about my time in the press boxes, clubhouses and front office.




Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, hopes to have his eighth book ready for you within two months. Cohen, who already is working on book number nine, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul. He can be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net

Irwin Cohen

Lou Gehrig, The Brothers Pipp And Henry Ford

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

He died 44 years ago and even though he wasn’t a Hall of Famer his name will always be linked to one of the greatest players of all time.


Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp, then 32, had a nagging headache on June 2, 1925, and manager Miller Huggins suggested Pipp take the afternoon off and watch the game from the bench.


Lou Gehrig, 17 days shy of his 22nd birthday, took Pipp’s place and would not come out of the lineup until 14 years later.


            Back in 1921, when Pipp was the Yankees’ regular first baseman, his uncle was a well-known name in Detroit journalism. Edwin G. Pipp, a former editor of the Detroit News, became one of the founders and editors of Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent. When the paper adopted an anti-Semitic stance, Pipp quit in protest and started his own publication, Pipp’s Weekly.


In a May 1921 issue, Pipp claimed Ford had arranged for eleven men to go to Europe to search for materials that would prove various accusations against the Jews were true. Part of Pipp’s editorial read:


The Ford paper started out a year ago to prove that there was an international conspiracy among the Jews to bring on war to their profit.


I personally have heard Mr. Ford say he could prove it.


He and his men have had a whole year in which to prove it, and have failed miserably.


They have looked into the character and personal acts of hundreds of American Jews and have found nothing to prove their charge.


They have had detectives, experts hired away from the government, go over the country in search of anything that would give a semblance of truth to their anti-Semitic campaign, and could prove nothing.


Pipp continued to expose Ford’s anti-Jewish attitudes while his nephew continued his career as the Yankees’ regular first baseman.


With Gehrig entrenched at first base, the Yankees sold Pipp in 1926 to the National League’s Cincinnati Reds where he played until his big league career ended in 1928 with a .281 lifetime average. As Gehrig was adding more games to his consecutive game streak, Pipp played one more season in the high minors (Newark Bears, batting .312) and entered the stock market at the worst possible time.


Pipp, who wrote a book detailing his stock market views titled Buying Cheap and Selling Dear, tried several ways to make money in those tough economic times – including writing for a Detroit radio personality.


As Pipp tried to make a living in several different fields, Gehrig appeared in every Yankees game through the 1938 season. Gehrig batted .295 with 29 home runs in 1938, his lowest average since 1925 and his lowest home run total in ten years.


To stay close to the game, Pipp went to several Tigers games, often chatting with first baseman Hank Greenberg, who hit 58 home runs in 1938. Jewish fans followed Greenberg with a sense of pride and events in Europe with a sense of agony. Six weeks after Greenberg hit his final home run of the season, Nazi mobs rampaged through Germany and Austria, attacking Jews and Jewish institutions. The violence came to be known as Kristallnacht.


As the situation in Europe worsened, so did Gehrig’s play in 1939. Teammates, management, the press and fans were shocked during spring training as the 35-year-old first baseman played like a man of 55. Gehrig saw limited action as the season started, but enough to keep his consecutive game streak going. Manager Joe McCarthy wasn’t going to end the streak. He was waiting for Gehrig himself to do it.


As Gehrig struggled, many Jews were frantically trying to get visas to leave Germany. Those who could leave were allowed to take just ten Reichsmarks – worth about four American dollars. They were forced to surrender property, savings and valuable possessions.


Gehrig took possession of first base on opening day but batted only 28 times in the first month of that 1939 season. He managed only four singles for a .143 batting average and also looked bad in the field.


After talking the situation over with his wife, Eleanor, Gehrig traveled with the team by train from New York to Detroit on the Yankees’ first western swing of the year. Only the Gehrigs knew Lou would not make an appearance in the game scheduled for May 2 and thereby end his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played – a streak nearly 14 years in the making.


Gehrig saw manager McCarthy in the lobby of Detroit’s Book Cadillac Hotel and the pair continued their conversation as McCarthy went up to his room. Gehrig was invited in and it was there that he said, “I’m benching myself, Joe, for the good of the team. I just can’t seem to get going, and nobody has to tell me how bad I’ve been.”


As game time approached, an announcement was made over the public address system that Gehrig would not be playing that day. The Detroit crowd applauded the Yankee legend as he made his way to home plate to present the lineup card to the umpires, the pre-game ceremony usually reserved for managers.


Despite missing their young star Joe DiMaggio, who was out with an injury and on his way to a league-leading .381 average, the Yankees mauled the Tigers 22-2. Rookie Fred Hutchinson gave up eight runs while retiring only two Yankees.


(Hutchinson would go on to gain fame as a big-league skipper with three teams in the 1950s and ’60s, managing the Cincinnati Reds until a few months before his death from cancer in 1964. A world-famous cancer research hospital in his hometown of Seattle bears his name.)


The game was secondary that day; the story was the end of Lou Gehrig’s streak. Besides talking to Gehrig, the press sought out a fan in the stands as the game unfolded. His name was Wally Pipp – the only person to have worn a Yankees uniform the day Gehrig’s streak started who also was on hand when it ended.


After Gehrig was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that would come to bear his name, the Yankees designated July 4, 1939, as Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. Some 61,808 paying fans turned out for the doubleheader and the ceremonies between games. Former teammates, including Wally Pipp, heard Gehrig make his famous “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech.


Baseball history lives on. We just marked the 70th anniversary of Gehrig’s farewell speech – many of the lines just as familiar to Americans as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.



Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net

Irwin Cohen

They Will Be Missed

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

He was the oldest former major league ballplayer when he died last month at the age of 100. Bill Werber was a teammate of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth with the Yankees in 1930 and again three years later. He also played for the Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants before retiring in 1942 with a .271 career batting average. He outhit Hank Greenberg .370 to .357 in the 1940 World Series, leading the Reds over the Tigers in seven games.


Werber is the answer to this trivia question: Who was the first batter in the first-ever televised major league baseball game?


It happened in 1939 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Werber led off for the Reds. The game was described by play-by-play man Red Barber, who was stationed in the upper deck behind third base next to a camera (the other NBC camera was placed behind home plate). NBC’s experimental station W2XBS was headquartered in the Empire State Building with a limited range of only fifty miles, reaching an estimated one hundred households.


After baseball, Werber entered the insurance field. He credited his long life to a great 70-year marriage (his wife died in 2000) and his having refraining from smoking and drinking.


As we approach spring training, it’s a good time to remember some other former players who died in recent months.


● Mickey Vernon’s playing career spanned four decades (1939-1960) and he won two batting championships as a member of the Washington Senators (1946 and 1953). Cleveland third baseman Al Rosen was heading for the triple crown in 1953 as he led the American League in three categories going into the last game of the season. However, Vernon’s two hits in the last game gave him the batting title, one point ahead of Rosen’s .336. Rosen had to settle for leading the league in home runs (43) and RBI (145).


Vernon, who lived to age 90, had many thrills as a player and manager of the Senators. The biggest, he claimed, was in 1954. “It was opening day in Washington,” he related years later at an Old Timer’s Game. “I hit a home run in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Yankees. President Eisenhower was sitting near our dugout and stayed for the whole game. He sent some Secret Service men on the field after I crossed home plate. They escorted me to his box and the president told me I was his favorite player and he wanted to congratulate me. That was my most memorable day in baseball.”


● Preacher Roe had one of the most memorable faces on baseball cards to us yeshiva kids. His wide cheeks and small chin reminded us of the popular comic strip hero Popeye. Roe was a pitching hero to Brooklyn Dodgers fans in 1951 when he won 22 games and lost only three. From 1951 through 1953 he won 44 games while dropping eight. Roe, who died at 92, was very popular with the press, his teammates and the fans.


Most thought that since he was from a tiny town in far off Arkansas, Roe was just a country hick. Roe played the hillbilly role well but he actually graduated from Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, and once taught high school mathematics. He started his big league career as a 29-year-old rookie with Pittsburgh in 1944 and was traded to Brooklyn in 1947 – the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Roe hung up his spikes in 1954 at the age of 39, after compiling a career record of 127-84 with a 3.43 ERA.


● Herb Score, the fireballing Cleveland Indians pitcher who was rookie of the year in 1955, died at 75. I was with my young yeshiva classmates when Score held our hometown Tigers scoreless. We thought Score was going to be the greatest lefthander of all time. Sandy Koufax broke in with the Dodgers that year (1955) but wasn’t a great pitcher until the early 1960s. Score, though, was great in his rookie season.


Score had won 38 games in the big leagues when he took the mound against the Yankees on May 7, 1957. His career would be shattered that night as a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald caught him in the eye, breaking his nose and several facial bones.


Score spent the rest of the year recovering and though he stayed on in the majors from 1958 to 1962, he wasn’t nearly as effective. He won only 17 games over that four-year span while losing 26. Popular with Cleveland fans and an accomplished speaker, he went on to spend 30 years as a broadcaster for the Indians.


I saw Score often on the baseball beat and recall many of our conversations. He was born in New York and grew up rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers and adopted outfielder Pete Reiser as his favorite player. Score credited teammate Al Rosen with helping him get over a severe case of the jitters the first time he faced Mickey Mantle and the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.


● Former pitcher Dock Ellis was an outgoing, outspoken fellow and probably remained so until the end when liver disease claimed him at 63. He was a writer’s dream, funny and quotable. He was the Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock of the baseball world.


Ellis broke in with the Pirates in 1969, pitched a no-hitter the following year and had a 19-9 record in 1971. Traded to the Yankees after the 1975 season, he was the toast of New York in 1976 as he posted a 17-8 record.


I did a lengthy interview with Ellis around the batting cage in Yankee Stadium during that summer of ’76 when He admired my straw cap and placed it on his head while putting his Yankees cap on my head. It must have looked strange to early arriving fans, but it wasn’t strange to his teammates. He didn’t move the caps back until after the interview.


The Yankees moved Ellis to Oakland the following season, then it was on to Texas, the Mets and back in 1979 to Pittsburgh where he wrapped up his career, finishing with a 138-119 mark and an ERA of 3.46. His numbers would have been good enough to earn him an annual salary exceeding some $15 million today.


But enough about yesterday. I’m off to follow the sun and spring training. Tell you about it next month.


Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, is available for speaking engagements and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Irwin Cohen

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports//2009/02/11/

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