Ruth figured prominently in one of the legendary episodes of baseball train travel, although the incident was hardly funny to the Bambino at the time. "The Yankees were about to leave Shreveport, La., during a spring training trip in 1925 when, suddenly, the Babe came running through the train followed by a woman with a knife," says Red Foley, veteran baseball writer for the New York Daily News. "When he got to the observation platform at the end, he jumped off to escape the woman. She finally got off and Babe managed to jump on the train as it was pulling out of the station."
Foley also remembers a less well-known chase scene. This one involved Nick Etten, who played first base for the Yanks during the early and mid-1940s, and Joe Trimble, Foley's coworker on the Daily News. "In those days, players left their gloves on the field when their team was at bat," Foley says. "In one game, a batted ball hit Etten's glove, resulting in an out, rather than a hit. Trimble then wrote something to the effect that Etten's glove fielded better empty than with Nick's hand in it. When Etten got hold of that story, he was furious and went after Joe, chasing him through the train. I don't think Etten ever caught up with Joe, though, and eventually he forgot all about it."
If there were memorable train chases involving ball-players, so, too, were there memorable fights and near fights as trains rattled through the night. One, during a Yankee victory celebration, was a one-punch, or one-shove, affair, depending on who was telling the story.
Having clinched another pennant in the late 1950s in Kansas City, the Bronx Bombers were celebrating the occasion with champagne as their train headed for Detroit. As Ralph Houk, then a coach with the Yanks, prepared to light up a victory cigar, relief pitcher Ryne Duren sneaked up behind him and playfully—or at least playfully to Duren—squashed the cigar in his face. Houk responded by decking Duren. "I think it was only a push, not a punch," says the Yankees' Whitey Ford. Other witnesses, mostly sportwriters, say that Houk, who was known as the Iron Major and was renowned for his quick temper, nailed Duren with the back of his hand.
It wouldn't have been the first time a punch had been thrown on a train trip. Though the Gashouse Gang had a reputation for being a rollicking collection of characters, it had its share of internal strife. Owen remembers that during a game of poker aboard a train, Paul (Daffy) Dean, had implied that Hall of Fame outfielder Joe Medwick had not anted up. "Joe was furious and said to Paul, 'Are you calling me a thief?' " says Owen. Without waiting for an answer, Medwick, always ready for a fight, belted Dean in the nose. "Blood spurted from Paul's nose, and I think Joe felt he had killed him," says Owen. "But Paul never flinched and Joe backed off, realizing Paul had taken his best shot without going down. Paul then lunged at Joe, who fell over. Paul then jumped on Medwick and began to bang away, before some of the guys pulled him off. It was totally out of character for Paul, who was a quiet, easygoing guy and never got into fights."
Getting into fights was not out of character for Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who spent the 1945 season with the St. Louis Browns. "Pete was a helluva ballplayer, but he had a chip on his shoulder a mile wide," says Ellis Clary, a teammate of Gray's who is now a scout with the Toronto Blue Jays. "If he thought you were feeling sorry for him, he was likely to go right at you, and he often did."
Clary recalls a near fight involving Gray on a railroad station platform in Toledo. "We were waiting for a train after playing an exhibition game against our Toledo farm club," Clary says. "There was a barrel of fish on the platform, and someone took one of the fish, sneaked up behind Pete and put the fish in his left pocket where he kept his cigarettes. When Pete reached in his pocket for his cigarettes and found the fish, he went right at Sig Jakucki, a big pitcher who outweighed Pete by about 50 pounds and was always pulling pranks on him. Pete, suspecting Jakucki, hauled off and punched him in the chest. If some of the guys hadn't grabbed Sig, he might have killed Pete right on that platform."
A train carrying the Brooklyn Dodgers to New York after they had clinched the 1941 National League pennant in Boston was noteworthy for other reasons. En route, the train crew was sent a wire by Dodger president Larry MacPhail, requesting that the train stop at the 125th Street station in Manhattan, so MacPhail could get aboard and be poised for the limelight in a celebration at Grand Central Terminal. Leo Durocher, the Dodger manager, who was supposed to pass on the wire, later insisted that he had never received it. Whatever, the train rumbled through the 125th Street station without stopping. MacPhail, enraged at what he construed to be an act of defiance by the always obstreperous Durocher, fired him—on the day, no less, that the Dodgers had won their first pennant in 21 years! Hours later, MacPhail relented and Durocher was rehired.
Ballplayers usually whiled away the time aboard trains playing cards, sleeping and talking baseball, hunting and fishing—mostly baseball. "A lot of the veterans would take young players aside on the train and tell them what to expect from other teams they'd face," Gutteridge says. "At the beginning of my career, I learned an awful lot riding the trains."
Owen's recollections are much the same. "I remember sitting with pitchers like Lon Warneke and Curt Davis, who would tell me about different hitters," says Owen, a fit 74-year-old who still catches in old-timers' games. "Sometimes you'd find yourself on trains with other teams. I remember how, once, while I was with the Cardinals, Jimmie Wilson, a great catcher who was managing the Phils at the time, spent an hour in the washroom showing me the best way to put a tag on a runner. He was the best tagger I ever saw. He helped me tremendously."