THE SPLENDID SPRINTER
By John B Holway
In all the talk about great moments in Yankee Stadium history, has anyone mentioned great catches? Two of the three best I ever saw came there.
The first was by Joe Medwick of the Dodgers in the first game of the 1941 World Series. Joe DiMaggio pulled one deep to left. Medwick drifted to the low rail, braced his right hand on it, and hoisted himself up to snare the home run away from Joe. DiMaggio never hit a World Series homer in the Stadium, and the reasons were two: Joe Medwick and Al Gionfriddo in 1947.
John B Holway is author of Ted, the Kid, published by Scorpio books.
My second greatest catch was by Jimmy Piersall
The greatest catch of all was by Teddy Ball
deep toward the old bullpen in left-center, between the grandstand and the bleachers, 405 feet away.
Ted galloped in pursuit like a spastic Ichabod Crane fleeing from the Headless Horseman, his elbows flailing and sleeves flapping, on long, gangling legs like a day-old colt. At the last second he stretched out his long, skinny arm like an old-fashioned grocer plucking a package off a high shelf with one of those extension grabbers. The ball smacked his mitt, and Ted smacked the fence at the same instant. He folded himself over the rail like a wet dish towel as we all held our breaths until he slowly unwound.
And he had the ball in his hand.
James P Dawson of
the Times called it a
hair-raising, one-handed catch over the shoulder on the
run. Roger Birtwell of
At bat Ted went 1-4 against Vic Raschi, who had never lost a major league game in his life he was 9-0. Second baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss played short rightfield and threw Ted out on two hard line shots. First baseman George McQuinn, also in short right, snared another hard drive on the foul line.
In the tenth, Ted caught Joe out of position
in rightfield and lined one to straight-away
center. By the time Joe turned around and ran it down, Ted had
slid in with a double. Bobby
Doerr, as usual, spanked a hit, and Ted chugged for
home. Joe uncorked what
A guy behind me gave a Bronx cheer and yelled that Ted took a wide turn around third. (No papers mentioned a wide turn.) In a youthful excess of bad judgment, I turned and challenged him until my friends pulled us apart, luckily for me he'd have creamed me.
The Sox won it in the 13th. But the papers next morning all told about Ted getting thrown out and put it in graph two. His catch was in graph 12 of the Times, in graph 14 of the Globe.
Back then there was no TV of course, and no daily highlights or play of the day on ESPN. We all relied on what we read in the paper. No wonder Ted wore and still wears a bum rap as a poor fielder.
However, the Globes sports cartoonist, Gene Mack, often
pictured great plays by Ted in the Fenway outfield, such as these from the 41 and 47 seasons. (Mack didn't travel to road games, so he didn't see the Yankee Stadium catch.)
A month later, in the 1947 World Series, Gionfriddo made a catch almost identical to Teds Stadium grab. All the papers in the country ran a picture of it, and millions saw it on TV.
But there were no pictures to immortalize Teds catch. If you weren't there in person and didn't read beyond the first 11 graphs of the news stories, you never knew it happened.
Ten years later, when he should have been DH-ing, Williams had to walk to pick up any ball that fell ten feet away from him. So those who saw him then reinforced the stereotype that he couldn't field.
No wonder nobody knows that in his youth he was an above-average fielder with a good arm.
Only Carl Yastrzmeski played the Fenway Wall as well as Ted, who often held batters to a single.
Ted played with three great centerfielders Piersall, Dom DiMaggio, and Doc Cramer. He gladly yielded room to them: You take it, Dommie! But Dom insisted that Ted was a good fielder: We never bumped into each other. And Doerr said that when Williams challenged him to a race, By golly, you had to go all out to keep up with him. If Ted had been a small man, like Pete Rose, they'd have called it hustling. But for a big guy it looked like loafing.
There was a third reason DiMaggio never hit a World Series homer in the Stadium -- the diabolical architect who designed the House Built for Ruth. Yes, and maybe a fourth reason Joes stubborness in pulling long outs into the Valley instead of poppng easy shots into the Porch.
That gave Gionfriddo and Williams the chance
to make some fielding gems.
338 pages, softcover
$40 + $4 s&h
If you think you've read everything about Ted, think again. I knew him for 65 years since we were friends in high school, and I've never read any book like this one. Holway has new facts and statistics and pictures on almost every page. He spent hours talking to Ted and found out things Ted never told anyone else. Most people dont know that he was half-Mexican or how his uncles taught him to play, and even I didn't know that he called his shots on at least 17 home runs. Theres a lot of new stuff on his battles with the writers, his famous All Star Game home run, Joe DiMaggios streak, and about Cobb, Sisler, Hornsby, and other .400 hitters. This book really brings the man and that era to life. Its a box seat ticket to history. Bob Breithart, director, San Diego Hall of Champions.
Well done. There were plenty of people who racked Ted up and wanted to bring out the bad in the guy. He had a lot of pressure on him, but he was a really compassionate guy. Holway has told it like it is. Bobby Doerr, Hall of Fame, Red Sox 1938-50.
The ballplayers all loved Ted. He was a great hitter, a great human being, and a great friend. Holways book captures the spirit of those years absolutely. Reading it is like being there in person. Every serious baseball fan should have it in his library or on his coffee table. Bob Feller, Hall of Fame, Indians, 1936-56.
About The Last 400 Hitter
Holways accounting of the miraculous 1941 season
is a joy to read. Thoroughly
researched and carefully detailed, it is an affectionate tribute to a ballplayer,
a season, and an era.
I entered baseball at just about the same time Ted did, so it was great fun reading about Teds life, and it brought back many memories. John B Holway has skillfully revived a remarkable period in baseball history, as well as the turbulent world surrounding it. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving those times through this delightful book. Jean Yawkey, former Red Sox chairman of the board.
Holway is the John Wayne of the keyboards. John Thorn, editor, Total Baseball.