The TGG Interview

Bill 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.’”

Bill Wight was a journeyman pitcher who played for the New York Yankees (1946-47), Chicago White Sox (1948-50), Boston Red Sox (1951-52), Detroit Tigers (1952-53), Cleveland Indians (1953, 1955), Baltimore Orioles (1955-57), Cincinnati Reds (1958) and St. Louis Cardinals (1958). He posted a 77–99 record with 574 strikeouts and a 3.95 earned run average in 347 appearances, including 198 starts, 66 complete games, 15 shutouts and eight saves in 1,563 innings of work. Wight scouted for the Houston Colt .45s/Astros and Atlanta Braves for 37 years after his active career ended, helping to sign, among others, future Hall-of-Fame second baseman Joe Morgan for Houston in 1962. He died in Mount Shasta, California, at the age of 85.

As told to Ed Attanasio, This Great Game

On Players Returning for World War II:

“Most of them expected their jobs back and they did, but they were all pretty rusty and some of them were never the same. That Yankees team was solid, with (Joe) DiMaggio, (Tommy) Henrich and Charlie Keller in the outfield, but they didn’t play that well their first year back, which was understandable. Joe D. hit around .290 and Henrich was around .250, so they didn’t have their normal great years. Joe Gordon couldn’t get going and we went through three managers that season (Bill McCarthy, Bill Dickey and Johnny Neun), so the team finished third. I do remember Red Ruffing, the old master at age 41; he was still effective, with an ERA under 2.00.”

On Tommy Henrich:

“We called him Blue Chip Tommy. Any time we had a rally going, he kept it rolling. Even though his overall stats didn’t look that great, he was an incredible clutch hitter. Some guys fold in tough spots or when everything is on the line, but Tommy was money in those situations. I think he won two World Series games with home runs, as I recall.”

On Yogi Berra:

“I saw him during his first year with the Yankees and I can tell you he wasn’t a very good defensive catcher at the beginning, but he learned how to become one. His arm was strong, although erratic at times and he could run well, believe it or not. But he could really whistle that bat! He had a short swing and he was always looking for that ball on the middle of the plate and in. He was trying to pull it to left field all the time and he could do it regularly. Bill Dickey started working with Yogi on his fielding, because he didn’t need any help with the bat. They say Berra was a bad ball hitter, but I disagree. Yogi was a lot smarter than people thought and he liked it that way. He knew the strike zone, he sure did.”

On Bill Dickey:

“He was our manager and our catcher in ’46, after the war. He was a general behind the plate and he was amazing at handling pitchers. He 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. You don’t even know me.’ Oh, he got mad when I said that. ‘You’re lucky to be on the ball club at all kid, so don’t push it.’ To make his point, he called for four curveballs in a row after I got two strikes on the batter. I walked him and now I was mad. Dickey was used to working with pitchers like Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and Johnny Murphy, who could throw all their pitches for strikes at any point in the count, so I guess he expected me to do the same.”

On Billy Martin:

“I knew Billy Martin in high school and he was a feisty kid even back then. Some people didn’t like him, but I respected the man for loving the game and giving 100% all the time. He partied hard, he lived hard and he played hard. He and Mickey Mantle used to go out at night and they invited me to come along every once in a while. I’d go to dinner with them and then say goodnight before things really got rolling. I was a little more concerned about staying on the team and not getting into trouble.”

On Carousing:

“Most of us didn’t get to party very much, because we didn’t have much money. People bought drinks and meals for the star players, but the everyday guys had to pick up their own tabs. In some cases, it you were out with someone like DiMaggio, they might pay for you because you were with him. DiMaggio was a pretty good party guy and he sure liked the blondes, but he never drank in excess and I never saw him drunk. He was nice guy, Joe D. was, but he was also a very private person. Yeah, they had what you called “Baseball Annies” back then. Now they call them “groupies” I think. You would see a lot of teenage girls in the hotel lobbies who would dress up and wear lots of makeup to look older. Me, I was married, so I didn’t mess with any of that. But, I used to think, man—that is dangerous stuff. We all knew not to mess with these under aged girls, but some of them did.”

On Ted Williams:

“We would sit down on the long train rides and talk baseball for hours and hours. Ted never got tired of talking about the game; studying pitchers and analyzing every top hitter’s stance, swing, etc. He helped me a ton with my pitching, because I was able to get the batter’s perspective from the best hitter in the game. He also told me that I dropped my arm a little every time I threw my curveball, so I fixed that right away. He was a genius when it came to hitting and it was a pleasure discussing baseball with the man. I know the press didn’t like him and the Red Sox fans were hard on him, but his teammates loved him. There were five newspapers in the Boston area at that time, so the reporters were always looking for a story. And Ted was one of those people who was totally honest and was a little too direct for some folks, so I think that’s why the press started attacking him over the years. He didn’t care what they said about his performance on the field, but he got real upset when they started writing about his personal life. They pulled his mother into it, and wrote about things that weren’t related to baseball in any way. Williams didn’t know how to play nice and he sure wasn’t going to kiss anyone’s ass, that’s for sure. And now they’re saying Ted’s body is frozen? That’s terrible if it’s true. Why can’t the man just rest in peace and be left alone? It’s crazy!”