Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball



June 20, 2002

L: Tell me about the first night you got called into a game at Yankee Stadium, with Art Fletcher and Babe Ruth.

A: When I first came up with Detroit, it was my first trip to New York. Bucky Harris was our manager, and the first time I was ever in New York, and certainly to Yankee Stadium, and Bucky put me down in the bullpen. The third inning, we had a pitcher name of Carl Fisher, he got into trouble and got some men on base, and Bucky called me in to relieve. The first hitter up was Babe Ruth. I threw four pitches and struck him out. Of course, I have to preface it with the fact that I was an underhand pitcher, submariner, I threw directly underhand, which was unusual, but not for me. Anyway, I got Gehrig out, and then I went out to start the next inning, and I was loosening up on the mound and Fletcher, who was one of these old-timers, was coaching third base. He was what they used to call a jockey, you know, and he said to me, “Hey, Auker, look over here. You can hear me. You’ve got the Bam all upset.” And I didn’t pay attention to him. Finally he said, “You can hear me. The Bam came back to the dugout and said, ‘Been struck out a lotta times, first time a damned woman ever struck me out.'” And that was the reason I remember I struck out Babe Ruth on four pitches.

L: You got to meet Babe Ruth later on socially.

A: Yes, I played golf with him in Florida for about three years.

L: Did you talk about that incident?

A: Yeah, I talked to him the following year, in the winter of 1934, after the Series. That was after the first World Series. And I told him about it, and he kinda laughed and said, “Yeah, that sounds like Fletcher.” He said, “I didn’t say it, but that’s Fletcher, all right.”

L: Elden, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were great players, but they were different players as well as different people.

A: Oh yes, they were completely different players. Babe was a swinger, you know. You could pitch to him, slow up on him or pitch him inside. You could strike him out. But if you made a mistake, he’d hit it out of the ballpark. And Gehrig was a guy that, he was a low ball hitter and he would step in there with that big left foot of his and screw it into the ground, and then bring his right foot in. He just stood flat-footed and hit. And of course he was a low-ball hitter, and I was a sinker pitcher, a low-ball pitcher, and I was always pitting my strength against his strength, which wasn’t a very good deal to do. So I used to throw at his feet and loosen up his feet. He kept saying to me, “Damn you, you’re throwing at my feet.” And I said, “Why would I throw at your feet? If I’m gonna hit you, I’ll hit you in the head where it won’t hurt you.” One day in New York, he didn’t get his foot out of the way and I hit him in the big toe, and he was rolling around on the ground. Bill McGowan was the umpire and he said, “God damnit, Bill, I told him he was throwin’ at me. I think he broke my toe.” McGowan said, “Oh, get up and go on to first base, there’s nothin’ wrong with you.” But he wore some kind of an aluminum cast on his foot for about a week or so. We talked about that later on. But he was a tough guy to get out because he just stood flat-footed, and you make a mistake on him he’d rake you right off that mound.

L: You were a submarine pitcher and an excellent pitcher. Carl Mays also threw underhand.

A: That’s right. He and I were the only two that threw directly underhand.

L: Tell me about Carl Mays.

A: I can’t tell you much about him. He pitched for the Yankees, and the only thing I know about him is that he was a great pitcher for the Yankees, but he hit a Cleveland outfielder in the name, Ray Chapman, and killed him. But I couldn’t throw hard enough to kill anybody, so I didn’t have that problem.

L: I like the story in the book about Goose Goslin and Ernie Lombardi.

A: Yeah. Those guys, they were always kidding each other. See, we traveled with Cincinnati in the spring. They trained in Tampa and we trained in Lakeland, and so we started in the winter of 1934, we started training in Lakeland, and when we headed north after the spring training season was over, we used to play exhibition games all the way going north. And we traveled with the Cincinnati Reds. And we got to know them pretty well; very, very well. And Goslin and Lombardi, they were always arguing about who had the biggest nose. And finally Lombardi hit him in the nose. That was a terrible accident, I’ll tell ya. Lombardi threw side-arm. He wasn’t a directly over-the-top catcher. He threw kinda about three-quarters side-arm. And he threw the ball just like a chunk of lead, a sinker ball, but he could throw it hard. And Goose used to take this big swing, and he turned completely around when he’d miss a ball. He’d turn completely around. And this time it was just before his last game of spring training, we were in Cincinnati playing the final game, it was on a Sunday, and Goose was batting and someone was on first base and started to steal second. Lombardi tried to throw him out, and Goose took a swing at the ball and swung around and Lombardi hit him right in the nose. And it was serious. Goose went down like someone had hit him with a hammer. And his nose and face was all swollen up. It broke his nose; it’s a wonder it didn’t break his whole face, the way Lombardi could throw.

L: How did General Crowder get that first name?

A: You know, I can’t answer that. I don’t know how he got that name.

L: That’s one of the folks that a few of the listeners wanted to hear about. But talk about what type of pitcher he was.

A: He was a doggone good pitcher. He wasn’t real fast; he was a heady pitcher, you know. He was a pitcher that worked those corners, in and out and back and forth, and a little curve ball and a little fastball. He was a pitcher something like Maddox.


L: Can we talk about Boots Poppinberger and Rudy York? That’s a great story.

A: That’s in the book, I think. Well, Boots, he was kind of a chubby little guy, little short-armed guy who came out of Pennsylvania, and Rudy was a big strong husky guy, strong as a mule. We used to play hearts and poker on the train. One night we were playing and Boots wasn’t playing, he was just kibitzing, you know, and he was standing behind Rudy, and he kept making comments. And Rudy said to Boots, “Why don’t you shut up and get away from here? You’re bothering me.” And Boots continued to stand there, and finally Rudy turned around and grabbed him and picked him up, and he said, “I’m gonna throw you off this damned train.” Picked him up and started to go for the next car, where they connected. And Boots was screaming and kicking, and he finally stopped and put him down. He said, “The next time you say anything, I’m gonna throw you off the train.”

L: You know, the title of the book is a great title: Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms. Traveling by train must have been a very interesting experience.

A: It was a wonderful way to travel. It really was. Of course, we traveled first class. When I was in Detroit we had a special train called the Tiger Special, and we all used lower berths, we had our own private dining car, and we could go in the dining car any time of the night when we were traveling. Of course, it was all air conditioned. And in those days all of our hotels, they weren’t air conditioned, and during the summertime in Washington and Philadelphia and St. Louis, it got pretty warm, but after a ball game we’d get on the train and it was always air conditioned, and everything was great. And the porters and the chefs and all of them in the dining car, they traveled with us. They used to almost fight for those jobs, you know, the porters, because they loved to travel with the ball players. So they treated us like kings, and it was really a great way to travel. I’d go to bed at night after being tired and everything, and you could hear that clickety-clickety-clickety of the railroad tracks, and it was just a little song that kinda put you to sleep. And it was a wonderful, wonderful way to travel. It was first class.

L: Boy, it’s just a great time to be with teammates and get to meet people and get to know people.

A: Oh, yes. We’d play cards together and talk, and we were all together as a team. And we were just like a family. And the coaches were there with us, and Cochrane, Mickey, the manager, he was just like one of the boys. He’d get in a card game once in a while and just be one of us.

L: You were there when Hank Greenberg made the run at Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record, and he got to 58. That must have been pretty exciting.

A: It was. That was in 1938. Hank had 58 home runs, and in the book I tell about it. I hit two home runs in one game against St. Louis, and Hank didn’t get a hit. I told Hank afterward, “Here, why don’t you take these two home runs. I don’t need ’em.” We played a double header against St. Louis, and he never got a hit all day.

L: Did people stop pitching to him when he got close?

A: Well, no. Everybody in Detroit, all the Tiger fans, they were pulling for Hank to break the record. There’s a lot of talk about how the opposing teams and everyone used to downgrade him because he was Jewish. And they threw those ethnic slurs at him all the time. But I didn’t hear that much. The one that I talked about was the White Sox. Once in a while you’d hear some leather-lung in the stands let out a yell, but usually Hank was highly respected. Hank was a real first-class gentleman. In Detroit they just loved the guy. Of course, he was our leading RBI man. He was a great hitter and a great player. And besides that, he was a real true gentleman. We loved him.

L: You got to meet Dizzy Dean off the field as well. I really enjoyed learning about that.

A: Yeah. We used to play bridge with him and his wife, Pat. We spent our winters in Florida, in Lakeland, and they lived in Bradenton. We got to know Pat and Diz pretty well.

L: He was different off the field. He was very compliant.

A: Well, yeah. Around the house, why, Pat ran the house. Pat, when she’d get serious she’d say, “Now, Jerome,” and he listened. But they were a great couple. He was probably as good a bridge player as I’ve ever seen. And in his house, Pat wouldn’t allow any liquor in the house. No beer. You couldn’t get a drink there; you had to drink Coca Cola or soft drinks. Not even a beer. Then he ended up signing with Falstaff in St. Louis for a lifetime contract.

L: You got to see Dizzy pitch. And he always said that if you’re good, if you can back it up, it ain’t bragging. How good was he?

A: Well, Diz was good. Of course, that year I think he won 30 ball games. And he was on it. He had great control. He threw sort of side-arm, you know, he wasn’t directly over the top. And he had that sinker ball, and he had a good curve ball, and the biggest thing about Diz, he had great control. He had wonderful control. I don’t know what his record was, with bases on balls as compared to strikeouts, but I imagine it was pretty low. But Diz had great control and he had a lot of self-confidence. And, of course, when he walked on the mound, he went to work, and players liked to play behind him. And he just exuded confidence. Of course, winning 30 ball games would give you pretty good confidence.

L: Looking it up as you were talking, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3 to 1. He would strike out three to every walk.

A: That’s right. I know it was high, because he had great control. He was fast, too. He was just a great pitcher in those days.

L: You got to pitch against Satchel Paige, which was really amazing.

A: Yeah, I pitched against him in the spring of 1931, I believe it was. And we had a team in Manhattan called the Manhattan Travelers. That’s where I went to university there, Kansas State University. And we had about six off of our college team, and then we had two or three or four other fellows that filled in. We played the Kansas City Monarchs an exhibition game in Manhattan in the spring of the year, and they had won I think 33 ball games in a row. Paige pitched the first game against us, and he hadn’t lost a ball game in about a year and a half. And we beat him, I think, 1 to nothing, or 2 to 1; I forget which it was. And then later on in that same year, I was pitching for a ball team up in Oxford, Nebraska. They had a state fair there, in Arapaho, and we played them again. They had a left-hand pitcher name of Cooper. Boy, he could pitch. And I thought he was better than Paige. And we beat them again, either 1 to nothing or 2 to 1. I forget which one it was. But they were a great show team. They would barnstorm, and they’d get out on the field and go through all these crazy plays they had. They were terrific. They had a catcher name of Young and a centerfielder name of Donaldson, and Young used to sit on his haunches behind the plate, and Donaldson would sit in center field, and they’d play catch. Both of them. Donaldson was, John McGraw said that if he was white he’d have been the greatest outfielder the game had ever known. And this Young was a big strapping guy, he was about 6’4 or something like that, weighed 200-some pounds. He had a rifle arm. Great catcher, great hitter.

L: What do you remember about Satchel Paige as a pitcher?

A: That’s all I remember about him. I never, that’s the only time I ever saw him, ever pitched against him, and I didn’t see him in Arapaho or when we played them in Nebraska, either.

L: Was he real fast?

A: Yeah, he was pretty quick. Of course, you know where he got his reputation? Well, the Denver Post, the newspaper out in Denver, they used to hold every year what they called the Denver Post Tournament. They put this tournament on and it was an invitation deal, and they invited all of the best amateur semi-pro teams that they could get in that part of the country. And the Kansas City Monarchs in those days were not looked upon as a profession team because they were not a professional, organized — they had their own professional league. But they also qualified for this tournament. And this one tournament that the Monarchs played in, they won it, and they played two double-headers and a single game in three days. The story goes that Satchel Paige pitched all five ball games and completed all five ball games. Pitched two double-headers and a single game. And he had something like average about 15 or 16 strikeouts. Of course, in Denver you’re pitching at high altitude, and these semi-pros that played against him, they weren’t used to that. That’s where they said he originally got his reputation.

L: Boy, what a story. You know, in the book a very nice part that I thought you did real well with was talking about the first night game in Sportsman’s Park and the Williams home run.

A: No, that was Bob Feller’s home run.

L: I’m sorry; Bob Feller’s home run.

A: Yeah. He hit his first home run off of me. The first two, I guess it was.

L: Right. But you pitched the first night game in Sportsman’s Park.

A: That’s right. Against Bob Feller. St. Louis Browns played the Cleveland Indians. I pitched against Bobby Feller. We each struck out 12 men. He struck me out four times; I struck him out three times, but he hit his first home run in the major leagues off of me in that short right-field stand in St. Louis. Of course, it wasn’t very far out there, but he hit it in there. But I see Bob every once in a while, and the last time he told me about it, why, he hit it over the stands. It gets longer every time I hear it, every time we talk about it.

L: Well, you did face — and in fact this little hitting streak is going on with Luis Castillo — you did face Joe DiMaggio and he got number 38 off you.

A: Yeah. I tried. I got him out the first three times and he got a hit the next time up. But I didn’t care anything about the streak; I was just trying to win a ball game. I didn’t want him on base, and I wasn’t gonna hit him. If I wanted to stop his streak I could’ve walked him or hit him. But he got the hit and kept it going.

L: So you left Boston. You didn’t get along with Joe Cronin. What happened?

A: Well, Joe was a very, very nice guy. Very nice guy. But he played shortstop and he was a manager. And he was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs. And he kept running on and off the pitcher’s mound. He’d run out there and he’d say, “Keep the ball down on him. Make him hit the curve ball. Make him hit the fastball.” And just back and forth and back and forth. And that had me upset because when Cochrane came to Detroit, the first thing he had a meeting with the pitchers, about the second or third day we were there. And he said, “Let me tell you my theory about pitching and catching. I’m the manager, and I’m also the catcher. But you’re the pitcher and it’s your ball game. Don’t you ever hesitate to shake me off any pitch you don’t want to throw. If they hit it out of the ball park, that’s your fault. If you strike ’em out, that’s my fault. But don’t you ever throw a pitch to me, that you can shake me off any time you want. If you don’t want to throw it, don’t throw it.” Well, I pitched that way for six years, and when I got over to Boston, Cronin kept calling the pitches. He would give the pitching signals to the catcher. I couldn’t shake the catcher off. I didn’t know that until Gene Desautels was the catcher, and I called him out after about the second game I pitched, and I said, “What’s the matter with you? When I shake you off, I don’t throw a pitch.” He said, “Hell, don’t blame me; Cronin is callin’ the pitches.” It had me upset. I just couldn’t pitch under those conditions.

We had a good pitcher name of Jack Wilson, and he was a great pitcher. He had a good curve ball and a good fastball. And I saw Jack Wilson walk off the pitcher’s mound crying because Cronin just drove him up the wall. Lefty Grove was the only guy that didn’t pay any attention to Cronin. If Cronin started to the pitcher’s mound, Grove would start for the dugout. He wouldn’t even talk to him during the game. But when it came time to sign the contract, they’d signed Cronin up for five years. He and Yawkey were very good friends. And they’d signed Joe to a contract for five years. So when the season was over, Yawkey called me up and said, “I want to talk contract with you before you go home. Save a lot of writing back and forth.” I said, “Well, look, Tom, you just signed Cronin to a five-year contract, and I just can’t pitch here for Joe. He’s a good guy, a nice fellow, a good ball player, but he just drives me crazy on the pitcher’s mound. So it’s a waste of your money and my time if I stay here.” And he said, “Well, we can take care of that with Joe.” And I said, “No, there’s no way you can take care of it with Joe because that’s just the way he is. So you can either trade me or sell me or I’ll quit.” And so that’s how I went to St. Louis. Fred Haney called me up and said he had talked to Cronin. He said, “Would you pitch for me over in St. Louis?” And I said, “Yeah, if you’ll let me pitch. If you don’t tell me how to pitch.” He said, “You come over here and you can pitch.” Well, I went over in 1940 and won 16 ball games that year for Fred Haney. And he didn’t tell me how to pitch. Incidentally, that year, if you look up the record, that year Boston finished eight games out of first place. And I’d won 16 ball games in St. Louis.

L: St. Louis, in those days 16 and 11 in 1940 for you, and 20 complete games.

A: We finished 5th or 6th or something like that.

L: Who were your big hitters then?

A: Well, we had some good ball players on there. Harlan Clift played third base, was a good third baseman. We had George McQuinn playing first; he was a good hitter. Walter Judnick, Cliff Radcliffe, Chet Labs came over, I think, and he was a good hitter.

L: Looking at that 1940 team, you had McQuinn, Don Hefner, Johnny Berardino, Cullenbein.

A: Cullenbein, he was a good ball player.

L: And the catcher was Bob Swift.

A: And also Rick Farrell. We had a good little ball club.

L: And the pitchers, Nigling. I don’t know much about him.

A: Nigling was a knuckleball pitcher. Terrific. He was as good a knuckleball pitcher as I’ve ever seen. He was great. I think we had Bob Harris, and Kennedy came over. Was Gailhouse there?

L: Nope. Bill Dilly.

A: Yeah. He was a little lefthander.

L: And Trotter. Wasn’t he the bullpen guy?

A: Yeah. He was more of a relief pitcher. Bill Trotter. Big sinkerball pitcher.

L: I remember him. You know, when you moved on, of course, to the St. Louis Browns, but when you look back on the career, if you had to say, gee, there was a big game that you pitched, what was maybe the biggest game you pitched?

A: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I guess, I think it was in ’34, I pitched a ball game on the 21st of September, which was my birthday, that clinched the pennant for us. I remember that. And the World Series game when I beat the Cardinals. But there were several games that were key games during those years. They were all important. I beat the Yankees during that time one stretch, I shut ’em out, beat ’em 2 to nothing, they got two hits off of me. There were a lot of ball games that were very, very important. During the drive to win the pennant, every game was important, in fact.

L: One last thought. Charlie Gehringer, obviously a good friend of yours, and the part when you go to the mausoleum with his wife is just amazing. But the double-play combination of Gehringer and Billy Rogell.

A: One of the best at that time. Incidentally, Rogell is still alive.

L: Yeah. Is he available?

A: Yeah. He’s in Detroit. He’s 97 years old and he’s in a rest home. He and Ray Hayworth, who was our catcher, we’re the only three alive. They’re both 97 years old. I’m the rookie. I’ll be 92 in September.

L: Wonderful. Wonderful. But Gehringer, they used to call him Mr. Reliable.

A: Ah, yes. He was reliable, is right. He was called the mechanical man. He was the greatest second baseman I ever saw. Great hitter and the smoothest fielder you ever looked at.

L: He didn’t say much.

A: No, he was pretty quiet. He and Chief Hoggs. There’s a story on that.

L: I love the story, it’s great. When they talk about what to do…

A: Yeah. Chief was just about as quiet as Charlie was. Incidentally, Chief just passed away this past year. I talked to his daughter last night. She called me.

L: Well, this is just wonderful to talk to you.

A: Nice talking to you, and it’s been a pleasure to be with you Marty. Any time I can chip in, well, let me know.

L: I absolutely will call you. And we’ve got a lot of these things to talk about, and I know the fans who called me yesterday really wanted to hear about the three pitchers, you three, and Mickey Cochrane and that World Series. So I’m glad we got to cover that.

A: Thank you. Good luck to you, and good luck to the A’s.


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