How To Score From First On A Sacrifice

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If he missed his chance, I don’t know how long we’d go before we’d get another chance. Because, you know, he’d tried out up there in Boston, and they’d turned him down. That’s what had been happening all the time. They’d have a tryout and then say, “We didn’t see anybody worthwhile.” Well, we wanted to show Jackie that he should try out at another position.

Sam Bankhead, Dan’s brother, was with the Grays then. We looked at Robinson, and Sam said, “I want you to hit the ball to his right.” I was leadoff, and the first time I did it, Jackie caught the ball all right, but you’ve got to catch it and throw in one motion. Jackie had to take two extra steps. He couldn’t backhand it and pivot. He couldn’t throw me out. The next time up I walked two times and stole off him both times. I’d step right over his hands, or slide past him and reach back and touch the base. Now the umpire would call you out, but in our days we played “tricky baseball.” I stole four times that night. But Robinson was fast, too. We just played back on him anyway. We just wanted to see him run. Sam Jethroe could outrace him, but Robinson would steal more bases.

In 1948 Satchel Paige wanted me to manage the Kansas City Monarchs’ farm team. He told me, “You never made money in baseball; this may be your chance to make some money.” So I said, “Here’s a boy I want, Elston Howard, just out of high school here in St. Louis.” I recommended him to Buck O’Neill, the Monarchs’ manager. And I said, “I’ve got another boy I want in school in Dallas, Ernie Banks.” O’Neill said he didn’t need a shortstop. But I said, “Look at him work out,” and that’s how they found him. Later I offered Howard and Banks to the Browns, to Mr. Peters, who was director of their minor-league system. But he didn’t want them. The Cards also tried out Howard, and they didn’t take him, either, and I said, “If they don’t want those two boys, who do they want?”

That year was also the last time I ever scored from first on a sacrifice. I’d done that many times, but this time I was forty-five years old. We were playing the major-league all-stars in California, and I was hitting eighth. I got on base, and Satchel came up and sacrificed me to second. Well, Bob Lemon came off the mound to field it, and I saw that third base was open because the third baseman had also charged in to field it. Roy Partee, the catcher, saw me going to third, so he went down the line to cover third and I just came on home past him. Partee called, “Time, time!” but the umpire said, “I can’t call time, the ball’s still in play,” so I scored.

I retired after that. I figured it was time to find a steady job before I was too old. I went to work for the city, first as a custodian and then as a night watchman. Even after I quit, people still were after me to play. But my legs were bad, I had varicose veins, I couldn’t run. I got tired, you know. That was in 1951. Heck, I was fortyeight years old at the time!

People told me I should have tried for a big-league job just for the money, but I couldn’t do it just for a paycheck. I never had any money, so I never worried about it. I just didn’t want the fans to boo me, and if I had played at that age they sure would have. Sometimes pride is more important than money.

Now they’ve got Roy Campanella heading a committee to name Negro players to the Hall of Fame. But he only knows those he played against. He never saw some of the older ones. If some of these fellows don’t get into the Hall of Fame, it’s no use putting anyone in there. There were two or three hundred of those fellows to put in there. I’d put in four, five, six at one time.

Now they’re trying to set it up so Paige and Josh Gibson get in. In pitching, I’d put Paige in with Smokey Joe Williams, Bullet Joe Rogan, and Stringbean Williams. Those guys were fast, they were smart, and they knew how to pitch. In our league they threw the spitter, the screwball, emery ball, shine ball—that means vaseline ball; there was so much vaseline on it, it made you blink your eyes on a sunny day. Then they threw the mud ball —the mud on its seams made it sink. The emery ball would break either up or down, but if a sidearmer threw it and didn’t know what he was doing, it could sail right into the hitter. It was a dangerous pitch.

Well, Satch could pitch right in there with those boys, and they weren’t any faster than he was, but Satch made the majors, so now they’re going to pick him over everybody. Satchel was the fastest pitcher I ever saw. He was so fast you couldn’t time him. He had this hesitation pitch. When he was a kid, he’d fight with a gang, and a little guy would get behind a tree and stick his head out and duck when Satchel threw at him. So Satchel developed this hesitation pitch. He’d make a move to throw, the kid would duck, then Satchel would really pitch and hit the kid when he peeked out again. There’s nothing in the world against that in the rule books, but after he went to Cleveland he was fooling those big-league batters. They didn’t want that, so they outlawed it.

Josh Gibson I’d put in with a group of four or five catchers. Some of those catchers might do more than he could. The long ball was the only thing he could do better. Gibson wasn’t the best defensive catcher. There were two things Campanella could do better than him: catch pop flies and receive the ball. But Gibson was a smart catcher. He was smart and he was fast. Sometimes he just dropped the ball on purpose to get some guy to run. And he threw a light ball. You could catch it without a glove. Campanella threw it like a brick.