Chapter 11 Golf & Travels Page III of IV
When I returned to Tucson a few days later, I went out to see Bill Veeck and told him what Fred Saigh had said about the Browns. Bill listened very attentively and remarked that that was very interesting. A couple of days later he came to my office and asked if he could use one of the vacant offices and the telephone for a couple of days. He was there every day for a week, phoning, arguing, selling and doing all kinds of planning. I never bothered him, but I did ask him how it was going, and he said pretty well.
One afternoon the next week, I got home about five, and my housekeeper said that Mr. Veeck had called, was on his way to pick me up, that I should pack a bag, and that he and I were going to San Diego. I grabbed a bite, and was ready when he showed up about six to leave for San Diego, an eight-hour drive. He had a date for breakfast with a man from St. Louis who held a note from the DeWitt brothers, owners of the Browns. Bill had to see him before he could close his deal for the Browns.
We got to the Del Coronado Hotel about 2 a. m. and grabbed a few hours sleep. We met Bill's friend for breakfast. He said he wanted to make a few phone calls and asked us to meet him at the Del Mar Race Track that afternoon in his box, the number of which he gave Bill.
After lunch we drove up to Del Mar. As everyone knows, Bill Veeck was famous for never wearing a tie; in fact, he doesn't even own one. However, the Del Mar absolutely would not allow us to enter the club area without a necktie. They were adamant, and Bill Veeck, the all-time-champion necktie hater, had to put on a necktie to get through the gate in order to make it possible to close the deal to buy the St. Louis Browns. As soon as we got into the club area the tie came off, but I can testify that Bill did one time in his life wear a necktie.
Bill and some of his investors completed the deal for the purchase of the St. Louis Browns, which for years had been the doormat of the league, both in the standings and at the box office, although in the mid-forties they had won the pennant once.
Bill built a home as part of the improvements he made to the St. Louis ball park. His and Mary Frances' first-born child, Mike, had the biggest fenced yard in America to play in, except when the Browns were playing in it.
I visited Bill and Mary Frances over a long Memorial Day weekend in St. Louis and it happened that the Cleveland Indians were meeting the Browns while I was there. It was great to see again the Indian officials and sportswriters. We had quite a weekend.
I was staying at the Chase Hotel, where Frankie Lane was the featured attraction at the roof garden. Bill, Mary Frances, Harry Jones, one of the Cleveland press crew, and I had dinner there on Saturday night. The place was jumping and, of course, everyone knew Bill, including Frankie Lane who spent most of the evening at our table.
I found out that night that a man can drink a great number of Cherry Heerings, a Danish after-dinner drink, without getting loaded. After our last course, Bill ordered four Cherry Heerings for each of us in little liqueur glasses. It has been a favorite with me for years so I enjoyed the generous servings. In a little while he ordered four more Cherry Heerings for each of us. Bill kept this up for an hour or so; at one time I think I had seven or eight lined up in front of me.
After a while two couples were seated at the table next to ours. They were friends of Bill's from Kansas City, one of the men being an official of the Muelbach Hotel in that city. Shortly after they arrived, Bill left for a few minutes, and, while he was gone, another order of four Cherry Heerings apiece arrived at our table. When Bill returned he noticed them and asked if we had ordered them. When we said we had not, he asked the waiter who had ordered them. He said the newly arrived folks had bought us a drink.
Bill likes to do all the buying of drinks when he is out in the evening and apparently didn't appreciate the hospitality of his friend at the next table. He asked the waiter what they were drinking and was told two were drinking scotch, one bourbon and the other gin. Bill told the waiter to bring a bottle of scotch, a bottle of bourbon and one of gin to the other table with his compliments. Soon the bottles were delivered, and thanks were expressed.
In a few minutes the waiter brought a large punch bowl with a few cubes of ice at the bottom and two bottles of Cherry Heering, which were promptly poured into the bowl. A ladle was added, and we were set for the next three days.
Bill whispered to us, "They want to play a game, huh? Well, I'll show'em!" He softly gave orders to the waiter, who disappeared, but soon returned with a small handcart on which he delivered to Bill's friends a case of scotch, a case of bourbon and a case of gin. That ended the exchanging of hospitality for the rest of that evening.
Bill Veeck was a most imaginative guy and dreamed up the darndest gimics to attract crowds to a ball park. The list of things he did is much too long to discuss; however, while his dad was president of the Los Angeles Angels that club did something that I don't think Bill has ever copied. On the day of a game a man on horseback, in a baseball uniform, would ride through the downtown street of Los Angeles, announcing through a megaphone that there was going to be a ballgame that afternoon between the Angels and their opponents for the day.
During the late twenties and through the thirties, baseball fans in the larger towns in Arizona, and those in Albuquerque, El Paso and Juarez, formed the Arizona-Texas Class D league. I was very much involved, as the official league scorekeeper. I also filed a short press report for the United Press after each game. I never missed a game played in Tucson for several seasons.
Those games got to be terribly important events, and excitement was rampant during the later part of the season especially if the home team was involved in the pennant race. The Bisbee team and Tucson became mortal enemies. The games between the two teams were ding-dong affairs, and many times ended with fisticuffs and near riots.
Many of the later stars in the big leagues started in the Arizona-Texas League. Most of the teams in our league were sponsored by the Coast or Texas League teams, who sent players to the Class D teams, hoping they would ripen into stars of tomorrow.
When World War II interrupted play in the minor leagues, the Arizona-Texas League went out of business, mainly because of the travel restrictions, and because most of the young men were called into service.
The first summer was pretty dull with no baseball games. I had an idea that I tried on the sports editors of the two daily papers. They liked it, so I called a meeting in the office of the Fox Theatre of the managers of the local semipro teams and suggested that we form a city league to play games six nights a week at the municipal park, which by this time had lights for night games.
We started with six teams, the Aztecas, a local social club made up of Mexican-Americans, the Elks, the American Legion, the Southern Pacific, the Davis-Monthan Air Base and the Marana Field, also an air training base. I was elected president of the league.
We began playing to very small crowds, although we charged only a quarter for admission. The newspapers were generous in coverage of the games and within a few days crowds began to build. The games were well played, and the teams, as a whole, were evenly matched.
By the end of the first month of play, sports fans, who had little to do during the war in a town like Tucson, responded to our efforts to keep baseball alive in the Old Pueblo. Crowds of a couple of thousand became commonplace.
The military teams had a few professionals to spark the interest. One player for the Marana Field team made his mark in big league baseball. Gene Mauch, who became manager of the Montreal team in the American League, and was considered one of the game's better managers, played in the infield for his base team and even at that time was a standout. However, despite Mauch's efforts, the Marana team was probably the weakest team in the league.
In one of the most important games, before the largest crowd drawn up to that time, a serious argument between the umpire and the manager of one of the teams got out of hand. The shoving match culminated in the umpire quitting in the middle of the game. He took off his chest protector, shin guards and mask, piled them up neatly on the home plate and walked over to where I was sitting in the stands. He told me he was through and would never umpire another game for the league.
Without an umpire, no game; naturally, as president of the league, I was in a pickle! There was a tall black man by the name of Slim Williams who had umpired many semipro games around town for years, but because of his color was not used by any of the school teams, including the University of Arizona. He had applied to umpire in our league, but the managers vetoed the idea of using him.
I knew he generally came to the games, so I had him paged. He responded, and when I asked him if he had his equipment with him, he said he did. He got it out of his car, and he umpired the rest of that game. He did such an outstanding job that everyone who had opposed him before, readily approved of my hiring him as the regular umpire.
That job led to his umpiring games for all the schools and the U. of A., which eventually employed him as their trainer for all sports. He was an excellent official and very popular with the players and fans.
The city baseball league continued to operate for several years until the war ended and professional baseball could be restored. It provided many evenings of enjoyment for thousands of fans and was another example of how people pitched in during the war to make the best of a bad situation.
Back in the mid-twenties there were three or four local semipro ball teams, the strongest of which usually was the Southern Pacific Rails, managed by a wiley character by the name of Mike Robles, who never donned a uniform, but who scheduled the games and handled what money there was to split among the players.
I was just out of school and was the team's regular shortstop. I and another gringo by the name of Joe Wagner, were the only members of the team who were neither Indian nor Mexican American. We had all grown up together, with the exception of one or two of the players, and played as a team for several years.
We played one unforgettable series in Bisbee on the Fourth of July against a team which included one of the members of the Chicago Black Sox of the infamous 1919 World Series. Buck Weaver played third base, and another famous player, who had been banned from baseball for life for some unsavory acts, Hal Chase, played first base for the Bisbee team in that series. They beat us with ease, but it was exciting to watch these former big leaguers perform.
A pitcher by the name of Tom Seaton, also a former big leaguer, pitched for Bisbee. He did something I had never seen before or since: Between innings, when he was on the bench, he would somehow get hold of the baseballs, and, with a large nail, would mutilate the balls so he could make them do all kinds of tricks. We tried to get the umpires to do something about it, but since they were also from Bisbee, our pleas landed on deaf ears.
Several other of the Black Sox players played in and around the border towns of Arizona and New Mexico, besides Bisbee, also Douglas and Ft. Bayard. What wasted talent those men possessed! Hal Chase lived in Tucson for several years. He used to visit me regularly while I was running the Opera House and the Rialto, generally for the purpose of "borrowing" a dollar or a half-dollar to buy something to eat. He became a pitiful example of a fallen man, who had great talent, great opportunity, but had a crack in his character that led to banishment from baseball, the only thing at which he could make a living. Once he came in to see me and I told him that all I had in my pocket was fifteen cents. We visited for awhile, and when he got up to leave he said, "Roy, can I have that fifteen cents? I can buy a loaf of bread." I gave it to him and couldn't help but think that a man in the position of needing such a pittance was really near the end of the line.
Hal Chase had two sons who came to visit him in Tucson. I became acquainted with them, extremely fine young men at the time attending Santa Clara University in California. Hal used to get his mail at the Opera House, and his sons had to see me in order to find their father who was constantly moving from one shack to another.
Many baseball people have said numerous times that "Prince Hal" was the finest fielding first baseman who ever wore spikes. He was accused of making wagers on games in which he played and of doing things which made him very unpopular with the players of his era. I don't know what crime he committed, but he paid the price in full measure.
The first World Series game I ever saw was in 1945 when Detroit played Chicago. Despite the fact the war had ended by the time the Series was played, there were still transportation restrictions. The first three games were played in Detroit, with the balance of the Series to be played in Chicago. It turned out to be a seven games Series, much to the delight of all of us from Tucson. Hi Corbett, Jack Martin and I were seeing our first Series, and we couldn't get enough in less than seven games!
Jack had sold his ice company in Tucson to a large corporation that owned plants throughout the Midwest, including Chicago and St. Louis. He knew the owner of the St. Louis plant (who happened also to own the St. Louis Browns) Dick Muckerman, member of a well-known family in Missouri. Muckerman invited us to join his group at several parties. We were staying at the same hotel in Detroit and spent most of our time in one of the suites of the Muckerman group, which included the business manager of his team, Bill DeWitt, his attorney, Tom Dunbar, who carried a revolver with him for some strange reason, and quite a few other friends, all very nice folks.
Dick Muckerman carried a small icebox full of ice with him at all times, in his hotel room, on his special railroad car, wherever he went. It provided ice for drinks, or for throwing from his hotel window.
Don Barnes, owner of the Browns before Muckerman and the man who sold the team to him, was also along during the Series. Baseball was the principal subject most of the time, which was great with us as we had never been around club owners, business managers and such big league baseball executives. We were invited and rode in the Muckerman private railroad car from Detroit to Chicago, and once we arrived in Chicago we continued to enjoy their company. We country bumpkins were flying high and liking it!
In Chicago we had reservations to stay at the Ambassador East Hotel, owned then by Ernie Byfield, who also controlled and operated the Ambassador West, the Sherman Hotel, the Pump Room, the College inn and other famous booze and food dispensaries. Ernie had taken over the operation of the Playa Hotel at Guaymas, Mexico, on the Gulf of Lower California. I had served as his agent in Arizona, through which goods and people flowed down the S.P. de Mexico rails to Guaymas. He shipped all kinds of furniture, equipment, foodstuffs addressed to me, and I would trans-ship them into Mexico for him.
He had promised to have rooms for the three of us in Chicago for the Series, but when we arrived we learned that he had forgotten to tell any of his hotel people of his commitment to us. The town was jammed and even he could not get us in with a shoehorn.
He allowed us to occupy his personal suite as his guest no less, during the Series. The place was well supplied with plenty of booze, and, of course, the service to his suite was excellent. We enjoyed ourselves to the fullest-another example of beginners luck at their first World Series.
Ernie told us that one of his sons had just been discharged from the service where he served with the army in Germany. He had been in the first contingent to reach Adolph Hitler's private mountain retreat in Bavaria. Ernie said he had brought back some interesting souvenirs. In Ernie Byfield's suite I notice a silver cigaret box on the coffee table with the initials A. H. on it. I guessed right, it was one of the souvenirs young Byfield had brought back from Hitler's den.
While in Chicago, Ernie arranged for us to be entertained at the Pump Room and the College Inn, where a chorus of lovelies provided campany at our tables between shows.
The Series was a very exciting one. The Cubs hadn't played in a Series in several years, and the town was all excited over their favorite team.
While in Chicago that week, I had spent considerable time with my old friend Irving Phillips, a man of huge proportions and with the nerve of a second-story man. For the seventh game, we arrived at the ball park a couple of hours before its starting time in order to see the warm-ups and the crowds. just a few minutes before the game was to start, Irv Phillips showed up, down on the field in front of the section where our box was. He was calling my name to the top of his voice, and I finally heard him and walked down to the rail where a guard stopped me from going onto the field. Irv told him to step aside and let me through, which he did. Why, I don't know. I still was hesitant as I knew I didn't belong on the field just ten minutes before the seventh game of the Series was to start.
But I stepped through the little gate onto the diamond where there were numerous sportswriters, photographers and other guys like Irv Phillips, who just wanted to be there. He introduced me to Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and the originator of the baseball All Star Game and the annual College All Star-Pro Champ Football game. He then took me over to where Hank Borowy was completing his warmup as the starting pitcher for the Cubs and introduced me to him. Next we went over to the dugout of the Tigers where Hal Newhouser was sitting quietly after warming up to pitch for the Tigers. I shook hands with him, as Irv introduced us. What nerve that guy had! And what a thrill for a yokel from Arizona, to be down on the field meeting the two pitchers just before they hooked up in the final game of the Series.
I guess it was small wonder that I decided that I should not miss any future World Series. My baptism to the World Series had been awfully nice. Having been discharged in June of that year from the army as a lowly private, it was a little difficult to become accustomed to the bit of high-flying life I enjoyed for ten days.
One of the most famous baseball parks of all time was Ebbets Field in Brooklyn where the Dodgers played for many years.
It was not a very comfortable stadium from the fans' viewpoint but it was a great place to see a game because it was rather small and afforded the fans the feeling of being part of the action. It was torn down many years ago and the site now is occupied by an apartment complex.
One thing I remember about Ebbets Field was the large men's room on the second deck floor of the stadium. It had 32 urinals, a half dozen toilet bowls, and one (1) wash basin! I don't know exactly how to interpret the implications of such a situation, but I do know that usually one didn't have to wait to wash his hands because 98% of the fans were in a hurry to get back to the game and their hotdogs or bags of peanuts.