If I had paid more
attention to Frisch I would have been a better player.
Frisch had been
brought up under John McGraw, and he wasn't interested in having you come in
and tell him where it hurt. The only injury I had in all the years I played
ball came one day when I reached over casually for the last ball being hit
during infield practice. The ball hit me right in the web of the hand between
the thumb and the index finger and split it wide open. They took me to the
hospital and put 14 stitches in. I came back to the ball park, slapped a piece
of gauze around the split, taped it real tight and I was playing again in three
days. Pepper Martin played with a broken finger, and nobody knew it until he
threw the ball across the diamond and yards of bandage followed behind it. When
the writers asked him about it after the game, Pepper said, "It's only a
could have walked past him in the locker room with a sign reading BROKEN FINGER
hung on it, and Frankie wouldn't have noticed.
Pepper was the
only player I ever worried about on the field. He played without a cup or
supporter, didn't wear any underwear and didn't put on the sanitary socks. Just
the uniform stockings that loop under the arches, his pants, his shirt, his
shoes and his cap.
This was the man
they called The Wild Horse of the Osage, one of the greatest nicknames that
ever has been put on a player. He ran like a wild man, he belly-flopped into
the bases and he played third base, which wasn't his natural position, with his
body. Chick Hafey, who kept all the third basemen in the league black and blue,
once hit a ball off Pepper's leg that left it numb for a full week. Pepper kept
his mouth shut and stayed in the lineup.
When Pepper was 44
years old, he visited us in spring training and demonstrated how he could leap
over two equipment trunks from a standing start. Branch Rickey had taken over
the Brooklyn Dodgers professional football team in the old AU-American
Conference that year and he promptly hired Pepper to be his place-kicking
specialist. It didn't matter that Pepper had never place-kicked in his life. As
far as Mr. Rickey was concerned, Pepper could do anything he put his mind to.
Mr. Rickey was always a great believer in technique. He hired all kinds of
experts to instruct Pepper on the proper form and knee action, probably the
aerodynamics of the ball, for all I know. Before long, Pepper was booting the
ball through consistently from 30 and 40 yards out.
"You see how
you've profited from the instruction, Johnny," Rickey beamed. "Which of
the advice did you find to be most valuable?"
Pepper said, "I listened to them all and tried everything they said, and
then I figured it out that what you were supposed to do was give the ball a
He'd probably have
led the league in scoring, too, if he hadn't ripped a muscle in his kicking leg
just before the season started.
If Martin was the
spirit of the Gas House Gang, Dizzy Dean was what Babe Ruth had been to the
Yankees, our big man and our good-luck charm. The guy who would tell you what
he was going to do when all the marbles were on the line and then go out and do