"Well," he says, "you pitched a pretty good ball game. But damn you, if you'd listened to me you'd of pitched a no-hitter!"
I'd already had a no-hitter you know, in 1931, against the St. Louis Browns. And guess who almost beat me out of it? That's right, Brother Rick. He came up in the late innings and hit one to Bill Hunnefield at short. Hunnefield came up with it and threw a little high and they called it an error. And I'll tell you, I never saw anybody run harder than Rick did going down that line—and that's the way it's supposed to be.
OF course people always ask me who was the greatest hitter I ever faced. They expect I would say Gehrig or Ruth or Simmons or Foxx. But I don't. I say Gehringer. Charlie Gehringer was the toughest hitter I ever faced. The reason is he'd never offer to hit the first pitch. You could just lob it in there, throw it right down the middle of the plate, and he'd stand there and follow it into the catcher's mitt. Sometimes he'd spot you two strikes. And you say to yourself, "Well, as good a pitcher as I am. I'm gonna get him out." But you couldn't do it, He'd hit that ball. And he'd beat you ball games. Yes he would.
You threw it down the middle to Ruth, he'd knock you off the mound. Gehrig, too, and Foxx and Simmons and Greenberg and DiMaggio. They'd kill you, those fellows. You had to start pitching hard to them, first pitch. Why did Gehringer do that? I don't know. I never asked him.
I didn't have too much trouble with Simmons. He was a great hitter though. Believe that. Foxx was another great one. I'd strike him out three times and then he'd hit a home run so far out of Shibe Park that you just had to stand there and admire it. A man hit a ball that far? No way you could get mad at him. You had to admire it. Foxx was a wonderful guy, too. Always smiling, always looking to have a good time. Loved his golf, like so many ballplayers. In fact, he ran his own course down in St. Petersburg for a while.
Hey, don't forget I was a pretty fair hitter, too. I hit nine home runs in 1931, and that's still a record for pitchers. In 1933, when Vosmik broke his wrist, and my arm was a little sore, they put me in the outfield and I hit close to .300.
One time I was pitching against Hod Lisenbee of the Athletics. He had me beat 1-0 going into the eighth inning, and I hit a home run to tie it. Then in the thirteenth inning I hit another home run to beat him, 2-1.
Another time, when I was with the Red Sox, Grove was pitching and he was getting beat by one run going into the last of the ninth. Now, you know Lefty; he was a great competitor and a hard loser. A very hard loser. He's sure he's lost his ball game and is madder'n hell over it. He goes into the clubhouse. We get a man on base and Cronin sends me up to hit. Tommy Bridges is the pitcher. Well, I hit the first pitch I see and knock it over the left-field fence and we win the ball game.
So we all rush into the clubhouse, laughing, and hollering, the way you do after a game like that. And here's Lefty, sitting there, still thinking he's lost his game. When he saw all the carrying on, I tell you, the smoke started coming out of his ears.
"I don't see what's so funny." he says. "A man loses a ball game and you're all carrying on."
Then somebody says. "Hell, Lefty, we won it. Wes hit a home run for you."
Well, I was sitting across the clubhouse from him, pulling my uniform off; and I notice he's staring at me, with just a trace of smile at the corners of his mouth. Just staring at me. He doesn't say anything. I give him a big grin and pull my sweat shirt up over my head. Then I hear him say. "Hey, Wes." I look over and he's rolling a bottle of wine across to me—he'd keep a bottle of one thing or another stashed in his locker. So here it comes, rolling bumping along the clubhouse floor. I picked it up and thanked him and put it in my locker. At the end of the season I brought it back to Carolina with me and let it sit up on the mantle. It sat up there for years and years. Every time I looked at it I thought of Old Left. He rolled it over to me.
He was my idol. Lefty Grove. Fastest pitcher I ever saw. The greatest.
What was the toughest team to pitch against? Well, I'll tell you how to figure that. You've got to look at their pitching staff. If I'm pitching against the Yankees, it's not Ruth or Gehrig or DiMaggio I'm worrying about, because I know I can get those boys out often enough to win. It's Gomez or Ruffing I've got to worry about—because they can shut my club out. Same with the A's. It's not Foxx or Simmons, great as they were—it's Grove or Earnshaw that's going to beat me. That's the way you look at it.
I'm with Washington in 1938, winning thirteen and losing eight, and Clark Griffith turns me loose. I was getting a big salary, and I guess he figured he'd save some money. Joe McCarthy called me the next day and asked me to join the Yankees, which naturally I was happy to do. They had a great ball club, with the pennant just about sewed up. McCarthy always liked me. Some years before, when I was still with Cleveland, I'd made some favorable comments on his ability to handle his pitching staff, and Joe never forgot that.
I thought McCarthy was a great manager. Still do. He was all business running his ball club, very professional. You didn't see guys running around all night and then kicking your game away the next day, which experience I'd had.
When I got up to the stadium, he called me into his office.
"We've got one rule around here," he said. "We don't second-guess the manager."
And he meant it. He was very professional. You got up there, you saw why the Yankees were winning all those pennants. They were all business, all baseball.
You know what burned up old Griffith? When he let me go he had to give me ten days' pay. And then I sign up with the Yankees right away. So I'm getting paid double. Well, we went down to Washington a few days later and McCarthy starts me. I beat them in eleven innings—and Griffith is still paying me out. Oh, that did him to a turn, paying money to the guy who's beating him.
You know, something happened in that game which I thought curious at the time, though now, with hindsight, I can understand it. We should've won the game in nine innings, but Gehrig made a bad play on a fielder's choice and let the tying run in. Instead of going to the plate and throwing the man out, he went the easy way, to first base. It was the kind of play you'd never expect him to make. Nobody knew at the time, of course that Gehrig was dying. All we knew was that he wasn't swinging the bat the way he could, nor running the way he could.
The next year, in spring training, it got worse. I was in the clubhouse with him one day down in St. Petersburg. The rest of the team was out on the field. Lou got up on the bench to look out the window to see what was going on on the field. It was some effort for him to do that, and he wasn't too steady. All of a sudden he fell over, right down to the floor. Just like that. He fell hard, too, and lay there for a second, frowning, like he couldn't understand what was happening.
"You hurt yourself, Lou?" the trainer asked.
"No, I'm okay," he said. He got up and didn't say anything more about it. I suppose he didn't know what was wrong, any more than the rest of us. He'd hit a ball into right center, a sure double, and run and run as hard as he could—he always hustled—and get thrown out by a mile. In workouts you'd see him straining and huffing and puffing, running as hard as he could, and not getting anywhere. The fellows would laugh and kid him. "Hey, Lou, you're getting old." That sort of thing. Nobody knew the truth.
I remember one time out on the golf course, it was during the St. Petersburg Open. A lot of us went out to watch the pros. I was following the crowd, and I noticed Lou, walking all by himself along the edge of the woods. I watched him for a while; he was wearing tennis sneakers and was sliding his feet as he went along, instead of picking, them up and putting them down. Looking back now, I realize why. His muscles were so deteriorated that just the effort of lifting his feet a few inches to walk had already become too much. God, it was sad to see—Lou Gehrig having to slide his feet along the grass to move himself.
Yep, there's a lot of things that stay with you as the years pile up. It's all been so long ago now that I find it hard to believe I ever did it, that I was ever there. For a while after you leave the game you dream about it a lot. You dream you're going to pitch and that you can't get your uniform on. You dream you can't get to the park, that you've lost your way. Crazy dreams, huh? But maybe not so crazy after all.
All of a sudden you're out of the big time, out of reach of all the glory you had. You're back where you started.
But still, I've got those memories. I played against a lot of great stars. You name 'em. Ruth, Gehrig, Greenberg, Gehringer, Simmons, Foxx, Grove, DiMaggio, Cochrane, Feller. I saw them all. And they saw me. You bet they did.