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The Red Sox made three big mistakes with me during an otherwise neat-and-clean relationship: first, when they tried to keep me from going to spring training in 1942 during my battle with the draft board; second, when I was asked to manage the club in 1955 even though I still had plenty of playing days left. I was not prepared to manage, I was not qualified or trained and I knew that the change could lead only to heartache because attendance was bad and the team was bad. The first guy who gets it in a situation like that is the manager, and you can be certain the Boston press would have made it perfectly clear who that was. The third mistake, I feel, was when Tom Yawkey, the club owner, tried to get me to retire in 1959 after the only really bad year of my career. I held on for another season—which is fortunate since it came down to one of the most thrilling moments of my life. If in the end I didn't make it as the greatest hitter who ever lived—that long-ago boyhood dream—I kind of enjoy thinking I may have become in those last years the greatest old hitter who ever lived. It gives you something to think about when you're waiting for the fish to bite.
Certainly there was never any threat of my going out peaceably because, even with my own maturity, the years from World War II were loaded with troubles—things that happened that will mark me forever, I suppose, as a maverick guy who could not reach an armistice with his environment. They made for some lively headlines: gestures at the fans, spitting in all directions, a flying bat that hit a lady, getting shot down in Korea, unloading a few words on the Marine Corps and the damn politicians, a couple of well-publicized divorces, feuds with other players—feuds, for crying out loud, that never happened.
I said I would not want to relive any of it, but that's not quite true. I wouldn't mind another crack at 1946 through 1950, just before I hurt my elbow. They were such big years for baseball, and for me. I was stronger than when I first came up, I was smarter, I was more businesslike. We were in the pennant race every year. They had to be the most important years for me, even with all the bitterness that kept building.
We'd won the pennant in 1946 but missed winning the World Series, a big disappointment. I had had an awful Series. I had been so humiliated that I was determined more than ever in 1947, and I wound up having a hell of a year. I led the league in everything and won the triple crown. But in 1947 our pitching went sour. Boo Ferriss, Mickey Harris and Tex Hughson hurt their arms. Three pitchers who had won 62 games in 1946 won only 29 in 1947. We finished behind New York and Detroit.
Now, I happen to believe the Most Valuable Player award is something that should be above personalities and therefore something you either accept graciously or lose graciously. I never made any bones about it one way or the other. I was happy when I won it but never flabbergasted when I lost. That year, 1947, Joe DiMaggio won by one point. He hit .315 to my .343, 20 home runs to my 32, drove in 97 runs to my 114. But the Yankees won the pennant, so on the surface the vote was O.K. with me. But then it came out that one Boston writer didn't even put me in the top 10 on his ballot. A 10th-place vote would have given me the point.
The writer's name was Mel Webb. He was, as far as I am concerned, a grouchy old guy, a real grump, and we didn't get along. We'd had a big argument early in the year over something he had written, and I'd said, "That's a lot of crap you're writing about me," and oh, he got offended as hell. I didn't realize until much later that he hadn't even put me on his ballot, and when somebody challenged him on it he was supposed to have said, "I don't like the s.o.b. and I'll never vote for him." Well, the commissioner should have gotten in on that. I don't know what the Red Sox did, but they should have gotten in on it, too. The Most Valuable Player award shouldn't depend on being buddy-buddy with a sportswriter.
I think without question that Boston had the worst bunch of writers who ever came down the pike in baseball, with the Cleveland bunch a close second. Dave Egan, The Colonel, always claimed I poisoned the climate between the writers and the other Boston players, and I wouldn't mind taking some of the credit for that. I remember way back when I used to sit on the bench with Doc Cramer, and one of them who'd been giving me a hard time would sit down nearby. I'd yell, "Hey, Doc, something smells, did you notice?" I know our players and others, even umpires would come to me and say, "Boy, you're right about those Boston writers." After a while I didn't cooperate. I didn't want to.
Sure, I was more agreeable and accessible to the writers in New York and Detroit and other places. Why wouldn't I be? They'd come in and ask a sensible question and I'd give them a straight answer, honestly, without politicking, without covering up, without being coy. But the Boston writers would come around pumping, pumping, always after something controversial, always out to put somebody on the spot. I really felt the front office should have done a lot more to cushion us from the writers, or at least kept them away from me or me from them. Eventually we got a rule put in where writers weren't allowed in the locker room after the game, and I was one of the instigators. Manager Joe McCarthy went right along with it. But we barred them for only 15 minutes. I'd like to have made it an hour and 15 minutes. I became a clock watcher in those days, the only time in my life. If I caught somebody trying to cheat, trying to get in before the deadline, I'd let out a roar. That's silly, of course, but you can't imagine how bitter I was.
You talk about poisoning the climate. I have to think the Boston press poisoned the climate between me and the Boston fans, because fans always pick up their cues from what they read. And you know Teddy Ballgame's ears are going to pick up every word that comes out of those stands. I remember there was a guy named McLaughlin who got to be a real pain. Johnny Orlando, the clubhouse boy, knew him. A little curly-haired guy. He was there every day in left field waiting for me. He'd say, "Yah, yah, ya look like a Coca-Cola bottle, ya big stiff." He'd say, "Did you read The Colonel last night?" Egan had ripped me again. He'd say, "Where were you last night, anyway?" He knew where I was—I was in bed by 9 o'clock. But he'd give me that treatment, just aggravate the daylights out of me. Then I noticed one season I hadn't heard his voice, and I asked Orlando, "Where's McLaughlin?" "Oh," Orlando said, "he's in jail. He's a Mafia guy, you know." Well, McLaughlin wasn't heard from again for about a year, and one day I'm out there and I hear this voice. "Yah, yah, ya look like a damn Coca-Cola bottle." He was back.
The women never bothered me. They always felt sorry for me. The kids were for me, but they'd pretty much do what their parents did. I said I have done things I was ashamed of. I'll never forget one time I'd agreed to go to some youth function, a fathers-and-sons night. About this time I was real keyed up, and I had this bad day at the park. They were all booing me, and I was mad, and afterward these two guys were waiting for me to take me to this fathers-and-sons thing. I got in the car and I started cussing the fans: "Those goddam chicken-livered sons of.... Those dirty...." And then I turned my attention on the town. " Boston is the worst...." And I'm going on, and then when I get to the place I find out the two guys I'm with are ministers. Gee, I never felt so bad in my life.