Fitzsimmons was 38 years old when I took over the ball club. He had already
spent a full meritorious career with the Giants. In 12 years over there he had
won 170 games, and when he was picked up by Brooklyn the season before I got
there, everybody knew he was at the end of the line. Fitz was a knuckle ball
pitcher and his arm was so crooked that he literally could not reach down and
pick anything up. He had to bend from the knees. It was so crooked that it
threw his balance off and gave him a kind of rolling, swaggering gait. To put
as little strain on his arm as possible, he only pitched once a week, and even
then his arm would draw up, inning by inning, until you could see his hand
disappear up his sleeve. Until, finally, the arm would stiffen up so much that
you had to get him out of there.
And that was a
problem, too. Off the field, Freddie was as nice a man as you would ever want
to meet. Once he got out on the mound, you just couldn't talk to him. He'd snap
his head at you and stomp around and snarl out his words like a lion chewing
knew how to pitch and he was such a ferocious competitor that I had figured on
keeping him around as a spot pitcher and coach until somebody better came
along. Somebody better, huh? In 1940, at the age of 39, all Freddie did was set
a record for National League pitchers. Sixteen wins against two losses for an
.889 winning percentage.
Near the end of
the 1941 season we went on a long road trip. We came into St. Louis one game
ahead of the Cards, and they had their best pitcher, Ernie White, ready for us.
It turned out to be one of those ball games. But then the whole Western trip
became a succession of beanball battles and fights with umpires. Fitz was in
trouble in the very first inning when Umpire Lee Ballanfant got in the way of
the throw to first base on a double-play ball and got hit in the back, the only
time I have ever seen that happen in my 50 years in baseball. A few innings
later, the Cards scored two runs when Pee Wee dropped the throw from Fitz on an
even easier double play.
In the eighth
inning, Al Barlick, the umpire behind the plate, almost beat us singlehanded.
First, he took a base on balls away from Reese on a terrible call, which cost
us the go-ahead run when Pete Reiser, the next batter, tripled. We were all up
in the dugout screaming at Barlick. Reiser, who was the best I ever saw at
stealing home, was jumping up and down the baseline. White became so rattled
that he committed as flagrant a balk as it is possible to commit, and Barlick
was so rattled he didn't call it. You never heard such screaming.
The game was a
screamer all the way, and Fitz won it in 11 innings.
We took the
pennant by winning two straight in Boston. In one way, the timing was perfect.
We were heading back to New York that same night to play our final two games at
How all the
champagne and whiskey got on the train I'll never know. I do know that Cookie
Lavagetto got a knife and was cutting a lot of neckties off. Not only other
players', anybody who appeared on the horizon. Except for me. "My lucky
tie, boys," I'd say. "You wouldn't dare to touch this tie." The
same thing happened when everybody began to rip everybody else's shirt off. All
I had to do was hold my hand up. "Tear my shirt, boys, and you're liable to
damage the tie."
When we got to
New Haven, I managed to sit everybody down. "That will be all, boys," I
told them. "No more drinking." I had been getting reports from the
conductor that a huge crowd would be waiting for us at Grand Central. There
were already so many of our fans there, I was told, that they had completely
taken over the terminal.
I took the
players into the dining car for the most beautiful steak dinner you have ever
seen. Now all the time we were eating I was on the ear because I wanted to make
sure nobody had any bright ideas about slipping away to finish off that
champagne. And I kept hearing these murmurs all around me, "When the train
stops at 125th Street we'll get off and take a cab and duck the crowd instead
of going on to Grand Central."