AN ARTICLE FOR BASEBALL GURU: APRIL 2003: FROM ONEMOREINNING
Times Is Bad Now But
Way back then, I didnt think of no future. All you did was go out on the field and hit that ball and watch it sail high into the sky and my gosh that was really beautiful. We all played hard and we played hurt and we drank a lot too. There was always booze around. Sometimes the reporters, god bless them, would stake us to the drinks, but we gave as much as we got. Maybe even better. The reporters was good guys. You know you hear a lot about them doin this and doin that but Ill tell you and Im talking from experience, they could keep secrets when they had too and it meant your career, and I dont mean just with women.
The games was fun then. We didnt walk around with no high hat, thinkin we was better than everyone else. We never got paid nothin, the owners was real sons of bitches, every single god damned one of em and it was like pullin teeth from their mouth to get an extra buck. Sons of bitches they was! I say to the guy, I been playin hurt all year long, Im the only good catcher you got on the team, my fingers like broken twigs, maybe next year I can get some more money considering I had a good year batting .276 which is damned good for a catcher. He offers me 300 more dollars. I tell him to go shove it and when I go back and tells him I thought it over and I would accept it he tells me, hell no, forget it, and I end up playin, for the same as the year before.
We had no protection then. No big million dollar contracts, no pension plans, no medical insurance, just nothin but the love of the game. And we all loved it. We couldnt get enough of it thats for sure! Id come to Forbes Field (the Pirates, they was my first team) early in the morning and my goodness the grass smelled so good and then the fans would start coming in and theyd give me the raspberries. I didnt mind it none. Catchers is always gettin that stuff. Hey ugly, whered you get that face? You look like a pickle. Hey meathead, yeah you. You struck out with a man on third in yesterdays ballgame, potato face. Aaah, go back to the Minors! I knew they didnt mean no harm. I knew most of em is good Joes. Like the first time Rose was in the hospital with Asthma. You shoulda seen that room. Flowers and get well cards. And then when I was traded to the Reds and came back to Forbes field for the first time. They gave me a standing ovation. Ill never forget that, never.
I wasnt much of a player. Nobody could say I didnt try my best though. I was always there practicing and hustling because I knew other guys was better. Catchin aint easy and your knees and fingers get banged up. With me it was my back. Nobody then knew anything about backs in those days. Now they call what I got a slipped disc. I coulda had a longer career without that, but thats OK.
Whats nice is my friend Shanty Hoak (you remember he played second base for Cincy for awhile) calls me last year and tells me were in the Baseball Encyclopedia. I say whats that, and he says everybody that plays in the bigs is in the Encyclopedia. I go down to the bookstore and theres this big book for about sixty dollars. I couldnt afford that, but I thought Id look for my name and that would be nice to see me in there, in a book like that. Well, I look under H and I cant find my name listed. God they had names there I hadnt thought of in years. Guys who played less than me (most of them is gone now, god rest their souls) but I wasnt in there. I get back home and call Shanty and he tells me what I did wrong. It was a real whopper! I looked in the pitchers section, Thats why I couldnt find no Henry Hinckey. Well Im not feeling so good these days, sos it took me awhile to get down there again. And there I was. Henry Hinckey, seven years, .253 BA, 18 HRs, 296 RBIs, and a lot of other stuff I didnt understand. It was so nice seein that. It made me feel special. I wish I could of gotten that book. I looked for other guys I played with and they was all there too.
Youll havta forgive my writin being so shaky. All those foul balls off my fingers and theres my back bothering me all the time now, so I have trouble writing. Its funny, I get up in the morning and my back hurts me a lot but later on it stops hurting but its hard for me to straighten out. It looks like Im always crouching, getting ready to catch. Rose used to massage me and rub me in but now I try to do it myself.
Thanks for your letter, I dont get many now. Not that I ever got a lot of them. Its a little hard for me to write back, because stamps isnt so cheap anymore. I kind of have to watch my self now. Those bills is tough, even with medicare and social security and those pescriptions. Boy those medicines is a lot of money. That was the worst part after my career was over, keepin up with the bills, tryin to make ends meet. Never could save no money as a player, didnt get no money to save. Never could meet expenses year after year and Rose was always in and out of hospitals. There was nothing left to put away. Baseball was all I knew. I tried managing in the Minors but that didnt pay much and it kept me away from Rose and the boys, so I stopped and got work in a grocery store. I loved the game but maybe I shoulda thought what it would be like later on.
The money that players is gettin now is crazy. I guess they wont have to worry about things after their career is over. I know some guys I played with that ended up in a bad way, but I never asked for nothing. Maybe someday well get some money from the Players Pension Fund. Right now they tell us were not eligible for any of this. I dont know if thats right. We put in our turn in baseball. Dont that count for anything? Mickey Rourkes wife called up the people at B.A.T. and told them they couldnt pay their bills and these people helped them out. I think theyre called the baseball assistance team and guys like Ralph Branca and Joe Garagiola are involved in it. Mickey never knew where the money came from. Mickey would never ask for help for himself, he figures you should work out problems on your own. Me too. I dont want nobody giving me charity.
When Rose died I wasnt ready for it. Sure I knew she had these Asthma attacks but suddenly there she was trying to breath and I was holding her trying to help and calm her down and her arms was stiff at her side and I kept saying, Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, and then she was gone. She was in my arms, her head hanging limply at her side and she was gone. And I was too.
I think of her now. How she was when I first met her, all soft, cream colored and so thin and so smart. My gosh, what she saw in me I dont know. She loved baseball maybe that was it. She thought I was a special player because I always gave everything in me to playing the game. And she knew her baseball. I got a kick seein her telling the new wives what a hit and run was and explaining ERAs and why you shouldnt slide into a base head first if you wanted to come out of it alive. She was special. Nobody was like her. All those girls you met on the road, they was nice and it was hard to stay away from that, but nobody was like Rose and that made it easy.
So many of my friends is gone now. I know its coming for me now too and pretty soon. I been thinking of death all the time now. It scares me. But you know what death is part of life I guess thats a funny way of looking at it, and it catches up to you and thats it.
I sit under the boardwalk now watching the water and the boats go by. Sometimes I feed the seagulls. Theres this one bird who comes up to me and eats from my hand. He has a brown spot on his side and before he eats he takes two steps back, always only two steps, and then he quickly pecks away at the bread. None of the other birds interrupt him. I guess hes the leader. Theres always the smell of something burning and rotted timber. I guess that comes from the factories across the way.
Well Herb, I sure do thank you for asking for my autograph. Its nice to be remembered. Im 86 now and time is goin but I remember my playing days as if they was yesterday. They was great days. I saw and played with the best. The Rajah (I dont guess you saw Hornsby play, he was really somethin) and KiKi Cyler, and Chick Hafey, and that crazy guy Hack Wilson, and the great Carl Hubbell (I couldnt hit him for nothin), and Ethan Allen, and my good friend Wally Berger, and the Waner boys (I roomed with Paul), and Old Hoss Stephenson (could- nt field a lick, but what a hitter), and maybe the best of them all, Bill Terry. They was the best and I played with them. I been outta baseball for a long time, but it dont matter. Baseball even now is my life. Even now.
Sincerely Henry Grunt Hinckey
42K FOREST DRIVE