They Were There: The TGG Interviews

Ed Attanasio, who split his time between This Great Game and SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research) as a member and former President of the Oral History Committee, interviewed over 100 ex-ballplayers—from “cup-of-coffee” short-timers to Hall of Famers. They give first-hand accounts of the players, places and events that have shaped baseball history for over a century. Below is Ed’s list of excerpted interviews that appear on This Great Game, along with more recent chats conducted by Eric Gouldsberry.

Alex PitkoAlex Pitko

“And after spring training, they farmed me out to Pensacola, Florida. But when I got there, their spring training was almost over. And they told me they couldn’t figure out why the Phillies had agreed to send me there. So they released me and I went home to Burlington.”

Al FerraraAl Ferrara

“I had a deal with my grandmother that after playing (piano) for an hour, she would give me 25 cents to play the Bat Away arcade game at Coney Island. After a while, people would gather round to watch me hit and I got a reputation for being a good hitter. The spectators wanted to watch me hit more, so they would keep feeding quarters into the machine.”

Art SchallockArt Schallock

“Those players who cheated by using steroids, I hope they never get into the Hall of Fame. If Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle had used those drugs, they would have hit 1,000 home runs each, so the steroid users should have their records thrown away forever.”

Art ShamskyArt Shamsky

“The Mets were just known as the loveable losers…so when I heard about the trade from Cincinnati and the general manager said that we’re trading you to New York, I thought it was the Yankees, but then they called me, and basically said, ‘Well, it’s not the Yankees, it’s the Mets.’…I said, ‘Oh, my gosh’…but in the long run looking back, it was the best thing that happened to my career.” (Interviewed by Eric Gouldsberry)

Bert CampanerisBert Campaneris

“It was the last day of the season, and I was ahead by two bases. I was going to take the day off, then some guy stole three and took the lead. So, I went in the game in the fourth inning as a pinch-runner and stole second and third to finish the season with the title. I also ended up ruining Nolan Ryan’s shot at a 20th win.”

Bill Renna

Bill Renna

“They didn’t want us to lift weights or do activities like swimming. They said those exercises used the wrong muscles, so they frowned on them. They had us doing sit-ups and push-ups and even the running was limited, because they were afraid of us getting shin splints or turning an ankle.”

Bill WightBill Wight

“(Bill Dickey) always called for curveballs when I was on the mound, but I told him I don’t have enough control with breaking balls. So, I started shaking them off and he didn’t like that. He ran out to the mound and said, ‘Don’t ever shake me off ever again, rookie!’ I told him, ‘You don’t sign my paycheck, Dickey.’”

Billy GrabarkewitzBilly Grabarkewitz

“Walter O’Malley told the press that I would have been the No. 1 player in the expansion draft if I wasn’t protected. He also said that ‘Grabarkewitz has all the credentials, but what are credentials worth on crutches?’”

Bob LockerBob Locker

“Finley was a real character and a lot of people…didn’t care for the man. But, I respected him because he did what he believed in and stood by it while everyone else called him a crazy coot and a bunch of other things I can’t repeat.”

Bobby DoerrBobby Doerr

“That’s a bunch of baloney. We weren’t cursed. We just didn’t have enough good starting pitchers, that’s all. And we never had a relief pitcher at all. The Yankees always had good relief pitchers and that’s how they beat us late in games.”

Bob RoselliBob Roselli

“Every member of the team got a brand new car, a Desoto, and all the gas we needed. And since it was a beer town, they gave us free beer—enough to keep your refrigerator stocked…They stopped me on the street and treated me like an old cousin they hadn’t seen in 20 years.”

Brooks RobinsonBrooks Robinson

“Everyone seems to want to know about Game Five. Johnny Bench came up in the ninth inning of that game and lined a foul ball that I swore I wouldn’t be able to reach, but somehow I caught it.”

Charlie SilveraCharlie Silvera

“I roomed with Joe Collins, and we would police the younger kids; if they got out of line, we told them—you’re messing with our money…if they persisted, we’d tell them, you better get rid of this guy, because he’s not a Yankee.”

chuck stevensChuck Stevens

“Everybody was taken by Satchel and his reputation was awesome. When I got that hit against him, I was never terribly impressed by it, but the people thought that was a great accomplishment. To me, it was just, he was just another pitcher.”

Connie MarreroConnie Marrero

“What’s ‘Premier’? I think it relates to when Manolo de la Reguera once received a telegram from a young student in which he asked about who is the best pitcher in Cuba, and he said it was me. I was happy because he said that I was the top pitcher in this country during that time.”

Cuno BarraganCuno Barragan

“Hank Sauer climbed that ladder and was trying to get in the scoreboard. But, I always barricaded myself up there, so that no one could come up and catch me stealing signs. So, Sauer came up the ladder and tried that door, but he could not get in, so he started yelling. ‘I know you’re up there Barragan, you SOB!’”

Dan LitwhilerDan Litwhiler

“One day in 1974 while I was the coach at Michigan State, I read an article in the student paper that said ‘Don’t Speed on Campus’ and there was a photo of an MSU policeman who had just received a new radar gun. That got me thinking—could we use it to check the velocity of the baseball?”

Dario LodigianiDario Lodigiani

“(DiMaggio) came up again in the seventh inning, mad as hell…and he hit another rocket down to me, which I knocked down with my body and threw to first, where I beat him by a hair. But, the umpire called him safe.”

Dave PhilleyDave Philley

“If you look at my numbers, I always had a decent year. The front office would tell me, ‘You did good Dave, but we can’t pay you anymore.’ I always told them—well I’m pretty sure somebody will and they always did. So, they would trade me.”

Dick EllsworthDick Ellsworth

“I made the All-Star Game (in 1964) and that meant a lot, but losing Kenny (Hubbs) was a huge setback and I still think about it all the time. Without that tragedy, I think we could have won it all that year.”

Dick HydeDick Hyde

“They paid me 10 dollars to pitch and expected me to finish the game, so I kept throwing even though I was in pain and ended up seriously injuring my arm. I found out by dropping down to throw sidearm, the pain wasn’t quite as bad and I started to get more movement out of the ball that way.”

Dick WilliamsDick Williams

“Sometimes you can look at an umpire a certain way, and if he didn’t like you and you didn’t care for him, he’d run you. I don’t know how many games I got thrown out of; I know it wasn’t as many as Earl Weaver, but I was probably next in line.”

Don MossiDon Mossi

“Mays made his famous catch in Game One and then in Game Two we lost a close game against Johnny Antonelli, and by that time we were done. The last two games were pretty much finished before we even played them, because we were mentally beat at that point.”

Duane PilletteDuane Pillette

“Bill Veeck decided that if he could play a midget, and get him up at the proper time to walk wih the bases loaded or put the tying run on—whatever the case may be—we could win a game here and there.”

Ed BressoudEd Bressoud

“Willie and I never had a conversation that lasted more than a minute. Mays has always been kind of a loner, in my opinion and I can understand it, actually. The public is always pulling and tugging at him for one thing or another, and I don’t care who you are—that has to get old after awhile.”

Ed MayerEd Mayer

“We were just enthralled looking at it, and it stayed there silently for about ten or 15 seconds…right above the pitcher’s mound. And then all of a sudden, it went out of sight in about three seconds. With no sound, just pfffft…just like that!”

Ed RoebuckEd Roebuck

“I became known as one of the finest fungo hitters in this great game…One day, I hit a fungo out of the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Alston fined me $75…a few weeks later a batboy came up to me with a bag filled with $75 in quarters that were from O’Malley. I was happy to get the money back, but I wasn’t happy that it came in quarters.”

Eddie BockmanEddie Bockman

“I got along real well with Bob Feller on that team, even though a lot of other people didn’t like the man. I had no problems with him and he sure could throw a baseball. Feller was very confident of his ability and some folks thought he was cocky, but he had that fastball that made grown men look like babies up there.”

Eddie CarnettEddie Carnett

“One day, we went to the Valley Forge Hospital in Philadelphia with all of the players from the White Sox. Some of the soldiers there were back from Normandy and I never seen such a bloody mess…When I was leaving that hospital that day I thought, war is hell. I can still see those kids like it was yesterday.”

Eddie RobinsonEddie Robinson

“We were called the Naval Training Station Bluejackets and we had guys like Phil Rizzuto and Dominic DiMaggio on that squad. We beat up on pretty much everybody—man that team was loaded. We were the equivalent of a Triple-A team. Everyone knew that if you didn’t do well, you might have to go to sea, and that was a great motivating factor.”

Erik JohnsonErik Johnson

“You have to be damn good to finish second. Everyone remembers the team that finishes first and wins the championship, but you can’t ignore the talent and dedication that also goes into being almost the best. Finishing second does not mean that you failed.”

Ernie BroglioErnie Broglio

“The Cardinals knew. They were keeping it quiet. In 1961, I took 20 cortisone shots in my shoulder—before every other start. They thought they were getting away with something.”

Ernie FazioErnie Fazio

“(Charlie Finley) always took care of his players—invested money for them; put down payments on houses for them, that type of stuff. I used to ride the mule for him all the time. I didn’t mind. I said to myself, ‘There’s worse things to do.’”

Freddy SchmidtFreddy Schmidt

“You know how many minor leagues I played in? About 35…I always had four, 14, 15 wins and you move up a little bit and then you drop down again, oh my God. It was tough.”

George CulverGeorge Culver

“I rushed a little through that ninth inning because Chico Ruiz had to go to the bathroom. So, when I got Cookie Rojas to pop up, Chico didn’t celebrate, he ran right into the clubhouse to relieve himself!”

Gil CoanGil Coan

“I got an infection when I was 10 and I lost almost nearly my whole left thumb. It didn’t affect my hitting, but it sure made it more difficult to throw a baseball. They tried to get me to use a fake thumb, but that just got in the way, so eventually I just learned how to play without it.”

Gus TriandosGus Triandos

“They just wanted to sign bodies back then. But, even when I was playing minor league ball, every scout that ever came through town and the local sportswriters would ask him and they’d say I didn’t have a chance. But, it never pissed me off, because I thought I didn’t have a chance.”

Gus ZernialGus Zernial

“Yeah, Philadelphia—they’ll boo ya’. They’re certainly some boo birds there. Announcer told fans I’d broken my shoulder. Took me down this tunnel and I could hear them booing me all the way down to the clubhouse.”

Hal NaragonHal Naragon

“I was a backup catcher, but the fans in Minnesota treated me like a star and I loved it. I would go out in public and people would come up to me and congratulate me, but I was thinking, I really didn’t do anything special or notable.”

Herman FranksHerman Franks

“They say that I stole Brooklyn’s signs that day and I’ve never admitted to anything. And I never will. There’s been a lot of talk about it since ’51…When Bobby hit that ball it was one of the highlights of my baseball career.”

Hobie LandrithHobie Landrith

“When I was 15 years old, a Tiger scout approached me and asked if I would want to come down to Tiger Stadium and catch batting practice while they were trying to get Hank Greenberg into shape…I jumped at the chance.”

Jerry ReussJerry Reuss

“When I was with the Cardinals and the Pirates, we would all go out to dinner together on a regular basis. But on that Dodger team, sometimes they’d show by at the same restaurant for whatever reason, but they wouldn’t sit together and even acknowledge each other, like they were complete strangers. That was new to me.”

Jesse GonderJesse Gonder

“Only the guys with the thick skin made it. Maybe we weren’t the best athletes, but we had thicker skin. We knew what we had to do to survive. There was really nothing fun about it. Everywhere you ran into racism. Everywhere.”

Jim DavenportJim Davenport

“There is no question that Candlestick Park took a lot of home runs away from guys like Willie Mays. I have to think that if Willie played in the same park Henry Aaron played in, he would have had just as many home runs as Hank got.”

Jim GentileJim Gentile

“They were all nice fellas on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Great guys. Every time I came up to play for the big team, they treated me real nice. Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese—they were all class acts.”

Jim LandisJim Landis

“One day at the park I was tired and a couple of guys gave me some speed. They called them greens or blues…But, it didn’t do anything except that night I couldn’t sleep a lick. I laid there tossing and turning and waiting for the sun to come up staring at the wall. And then I had a game the next day. I was beat that afternoon and I told myself right there that I would never take those silly pills ever again.”

Jim ParqueJim Parque

“The public thinks if you take steroids, suddenly you’ll be hitting more home runs or as a pitcher, striking out more guys, but it’s not true. For me, it’s more of an ethical thing as opposed to a performance enhancement issue.”

Joe DeMaestriJoe DeMaestri

“They lined us up outside the bus and they were really mad. They were going to arrest (Vic) Power, but they said we could keep him out of jail if we could come up with $250. We took up a collection and gave them the cash. Eventually, it blew over because it didn’t hold any water in court. But it was scary—because they had pulled their guns and they meant business.”

Joe RudiJoe Rudi

“I didn’t get it as cleanly as I would normally—right at the very tip of my glove hanging halfway out of my mitt. The Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson and a lot of the Cincinnati fans thought it bounced out…If I had missed that, Tony Perez would have scored (from first) and who knows what happens after that?”

Joey AmalfitanoJoey Amalfitano

“So, we had a team meeting the night before the (1954 World Series) and Durocher started reading from this scouting report and going through their lineup. After about the third name, he stopped and said, ‘We beat these guys in the spring and we’ll beat them again’ and that was the end of the meeting.”

John D’AcquistoJohn D’Acquisto

“The (restaurant) started doing well and we got excited. This really nice old guy came there all the time, he was a regular. A very pleasant old gentleman that everyone seemed to know and like. Then, one day two FBI agents walked up to us and said, ‘Can we talk?’ It turned out that this nice old man was Jimmy ‘The Weasel’ Fratianno, the famous mob guy turned informant.”

John KennedyJohn Kennedy

“It was a big deal—some of us wanted Koufax to pitch Game Seven, but others were leaning more toward Drysdale, because he had more rest than Sandy did. I loved Don, he was a battler and a great pitcher, but if the season was on the line for one last game you wanted Sandy out there on the mound.”

John OldhamJohn Oldham

“Someone told me that when I get my contract, don’t sign it…so I sent it back. I wasn’t aware of the fact that the Reds GM was Gabe Paul, who was known for being tough and cheap. A few weeks later, I got a letter from Paul and he said, ‘I’ve never been so insulted in all my life. You’re sold to Seattle!’ Oops. The lesson is don’t take bad advice.”

Johnnie LeMasterJohnnie LeMaster

“I started getting booed a lot around 1980. So, I was laying in bed one night and my wife sat up and said, ‘You should just change your name to Boo!’”

Lefty O’DoulLefty O’Doul

“I know Lefty would be so proud and happy to see all of the great Japanese players in the majors right now…I hope people remember what Lefty did for that country and is baseball. I believe it’s his legacy.”

Len GabrielsonLen Gabrielson

“Back then, there weren’t a lot of ancillary activities going on—like all the soccer, the video games, the Internet and skateboarding that goes on today. Baseball was the big thing and every kid pretty much played ball.”

Lennie MerulloLennie Merullo

“The baby was born at five in the morning and I showed up (to the game) afterwards…I had no business being out there, but I did anyway. And almost immediately I made an error at shortstop. I kicked the ball and then threw it over the first baseman’s head. Then, they hit me another grounder and I did the same thing again!”

Lester RodneyLester Rodney

“I never met a black player who told me he wanted to stay in the Negro Leagues. That’s ridiculous. If you feel you’re the best violinist in the country and you live in Paducah, you don’t want to stay in Paducah.”

Mark LittellMark Littell

“When I got back to Kansas City, most of the fans were very nice to me, but I could not face them. The winter was hard and every once in a while someone would rip into me…You know, I won and saved a lot of important games in my career, but I guess I will always be remembered for that one pitch, and what can I do?”

Mark LorettaMark Loretta

“Everything came together in 2004 during my second season in San Diego…I won a Silver Slugger and played in the All-Star Game. It was an amazing experience. My locker was right next to Barry Larkin’s, a player I really respect. I looked around the locker room and I saw Pujols, Piazza, Bonds, Clemens—it was surreal.”

Marty AppelMarty Appel

“I would normally get 8-9 phone calls every day from (Steinbrenner) and he would tell me to come to his office, which was approximately 500 feet down the hall. I would walk in there and he might be yelling and screaming or just have something minor to deal with. The man was involved in everything—even deciding which members of the press would get parking passes each and every night.”

Maury WillsMaury Wills

“I went out there and got something like four hits, stole about three bases, I was running from first to third on ground balls through the infield and my teammates were telling me, ‘Slow down because you’ll hurt yourself. It’s just an exhibition game.’ And I told them, ‘not for me.’”

Mike SandlockMike Sandlock

“(Brooklyn) fans were really close to the players and people would yell out stuff that was funny and witty. Now the fans just yell obscenities and anyone can do that. The Brooklyn fans were a lot of fun and I loved playing in front of them.”

Mudcat GrantMudcat Grant

“I got to play with Larry Doby on that team and he taught me so much, so much. Not just baseball stuff, but how to dress right and act right out on and off the field…What an education he gave me, not to mention all of the amazing people he introduced me too. Count Basie, Adam Clayton Powell, Jim Brown, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Dorothy Dandridge.”

Nate OliverNate Oliver

“Marichal was having some initial problems getting into the Hall of Fame. And it was Roseboro who made the phone call to the powers-that-be and said ‘are you kidding, this is one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen.’”

Orlando CepedaOrlando Cepeda

“Buddhism could have helped me because I did so many bad things during those years. I stayed up all night every night to go to clubs and dance. If I had become a Buddhist during my baseball career, I believe I would have batted .300 and hit 500 home runs.’”

Peter GolenbockPeter Golenbock

“I went to San Francisco to interview Joe DiMagggio, and he avoided me like the plague. I had a nice lobster dinner at his family’s restaurant and then just went on to the next interview. By having DiMaggio stand me up, in a way it sort of added to the mystique.’”

Ray HathawayRay Hathaway

“When I first arrived there and walked into Ebbets Field, I was in shock. It was an amazing sight…It was a real scene at Ebbets and the fans were rabid, really. They were so close to the players that you could pretty much hear everything they were saying, which was good or bad, depending on how you were playing.”

Rollie StilesRollie Stiles

“I had nearly every disease you could have as a kid. I was always sick. I always drank a little bit and I smoked cigarettes during my whole baseball career. So, I can’t tell you why I’ve lived so long.”

Rugger ArdizoiaRugger Ardizoia

“I loved playing in Hollywood. All the big movie stars came to our games. In fact, I met Harry James, Ronald Reagan, the Marx Brothers, George Raft—oh boy, you name it, (Frank) Sinatra came out there and…I got along real good with all of them, but I never worshipped them or anything like that. I treated them like everyone else, and I think they appreciated it.”

Steve SaxSteve Sax

“In 1983, I made an error and then I made another one, and pretty soon I let doubt and fear creep into my psyche. And when that happens, you’re a goner. I just lost my confidence, it’s that simple.”

Ted SizemoreTed Sizemore

“Lou was going for the record of 118 stolen bases, and whenever he got on base, I did everything I could to help him. He was on base a lot that season and I liked playing the job of helping him. I would stand far back in the batter’s box, forcing catchers to back up. When Lou took off, I would swing fairly late or do a fake bunt.”

Tommy DavisTommy Davis

“Jim Bouton was my teammate in both Seattle and Houston and he mentioned me a few times in his book, Ball Four… Many players believe that anything that happens in the locker room should stay there, but I’m not an advocate of that. But, I’m not mad at him and I never was, because everything he wrote was accurate and he was honest.”

Tommy JohnTommy John

“I ask the parents who is the best pitcher in baseball right now and they say guys like (Justin) Verlander or (Clayton) Kershaw. Then I ask them, do these guys pitch year round? Of course not. So, if they don’t, why should your kid do it? Rest is part of training, I tell them. If you rest your arm, nature will take care of it.”

Tony MalinoskiTony Malinosky

“I tell the guys I was a better than average ball player and that’s all. In my own heart, if I hadn’t gotten banged up, you would never have heard about a guy named Pee Wee Reese.”

Vida BlueVida Blue

“One day in ’71, he offered me $2,000 to change my middle name to ‘True.’ At first, I thought he might be joking. I told Charlie no—I like my name the way it is. He did not like that and started telling everyone to call me ‘True Blue’ anyway. The P.A. announcer was forced to say it. I was pissed and I let him know.”

Virgil TrucksVirgil Trucks

“I was in the hospital having my gall bladder removed. My wife came up to see me and brought this paper and it said right across the headlines on the front page ‘Tiger Starter Traded to the Browns’, and I had a relapse.”

Wally WestlakeWally Westlake

“I’m the first white player who ever got hit by a pitch from a black player… Everyone kind of hesitated when he hit me, there was almost like a hush. It was like, what’s gonna happen next?”

Will ClarkWill Clark

“I remember all of it. It’s still fresh in my mind. I was running in the outfield during warmups when everything started shaking.  The light standards began moving back and forth and a wave traveled through the stands and around Candlestick.”