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BASEBALL!
Stories, Quotes and Player Profiles
Page 3
"Baseball, because of its continuity over the space of America and the time of America, is a place where memory gathers." -- Donald Hall
BILL RIGNEY: A BASEBALL-CRAZY TOWN
Jorge Pasquel and his brother formed the Mexican League in 1946 and were offering major leaguers a lot  of money to defect, thousands more than they were making in the majors. Stan Musial even considered leaving the Cardinals. The Giants held a [spring training] meeting and our manager Mel Ott asked, "Is anyone here going to Mexico?" Babe Young, an outfielder-first baseman, said we all should have raised our hands because we'd have gotten better contracts. As it was, we lost Sal Maglie, who had shown great promise as a rookie pitcher in 1945, outfielder Danny Gardella, second baseman George Hausmann, and a couple of other guys. They went down there, though our new Commissioner, Happy Chandler, threatened them with permanent banishment. (Gardella would later sue major league baseball for reinstatement after the Mexican League folded.)
The rest of us headed north. John McGraw had started a tradition: anytime the Giants would open a season in New York, they'd play the Cadets at West Point the day before ....
I'd never been to New York. I'd never been to a major league ballpark. I'd never seen the Polo Grounds. We got in at ten o' clock at night. We carried our own bags in those days, and I walked up those steps and into the Giants' clubhouse. It was a marvelous clubhouse: you walked down the steps and there was one big room and down six more steps and there were all the lockers. The trainer's room was there and the showers were upstairs; the manager's office was on the first deck. I looked for my locker and there it was next to the locker of Johnny Mize. I put my stuff down and said to myself, "Christy Mathewson, Bill Terry, John McGraw, Mel Ott, Travis Jackson, and all the other great Giants of the past dressed right here." Both clubhouses were in center field, and I walked down the twenty steps onto the field. The night lights were on. I saw that the Polo Grounds was built like a horseshoe with home plate in the middle. I remember the chill I got thinking, "Tomorrow you're going to be the shortstop in front of 45,000." I wondered what I was doing there. I wondered if I could handle it.
The next day I was introduced and ran onto the diamond in front of all those fans. I prayed the ball would be hit to me quickly so I could calm down. And the Phillies' little shortstop, Skeeter Newsome, hit the ball through the box. I picked it up one-handed and threw him out. The crowd cheered. And I said, "Oh boy, this is going to be all right." The first time I batted, Oscar Judd threw me a screwball on a 3-2 pitch and struck me out. A 3-2 screwball? I said, "This is the major leagues." Later I solved him for two hits, we beat the Phils 8-2, and Bill Voiselle got the victory.
....That first year I lived in the Bronx, on 183rd Street. My wife was pregnant, and the apartment we rented was on the top floor and had no air conditioning. We just about died. I was under a lot of pressure to succeed. I wanted to raise a family and support them by being a ballplayer. I had such love for the game and couldn't let myself think what I might do if I failed and had to do something other than play professional baseball. It was my life.
[1947] I fell in love with New York. There [were] ... all the great restaurants and supper clubs, there were stores and Automats, there was music and movies and shows, there were subways and els and double-decker buses, there were newstands everywhere you looked, and Central Park was a beautiful playground .... I guess I started to feel a bit like a celebrity because I'd be walking down Broadway at night and Giants fans would call to me. The New York fans knew who you were and who they were. They were proud of their teams. That made a huge impression on a young player like me. Until I came to New York,  I didn't realize fans could care so much whether a team won or lost. New York was a baseball-crazy town. There were all those newspapers and great sportswriters: Jimmy Cannon of the Post, Arthur Daley of the Times, Red Smith of the Herald Tribune, Dick Young of the Daily News. And we had the best broadcasters: The Giants' Russ Hodges, the Dodgers' Red Barber, and the Yankees' Mel Allen.
[Giants owner Horace] Stoneham built a team around the home run rather than pitching and defense. He liked to watch guys who could hit the long ball. He got my roomie, first baseman Johnny Mize, and catcher Walker Cooper  from the Cardinals. Cooper hit 6 homers in 3 games at one point. Outfielders Bobby Thomson, who had come up briefly in 1946, Willard Marshall, and Sid Gordon were all pull hitters with power. In 1947 we set a major league record with 221 home runs. Mize tied Pittsburgh's Ralph Kiner for the homer title with 51, Marshall was third with 36, Cooper was fourth with 35, and Thomson was fifth with 29 ... We were the only National League team with more than one player with 100 RBIs, and we had three, with Mize, Cooper, and Marshall. We'd win 10-9, not 1-0 ....
With Stoneham's emphasis on hitting, our pitching was weak .... Mel Ott would have been a better manager if he'd had better pitchers. Another problem is that he hired his friends as his coaches. Ott was a great guy and everyone loved him and wanted to play well for him. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was talking about Otty when he said, "Nice guys finish last."
Even in my first exhibition game against the Dodgers I could tell there was a strong, strong rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants. I could taste it, smell it. There was never a rivalry to match it. On the field, the two teams detested each other. As the Giants got better, beginning in 1947, the rivalry became even more intense. There were now three good teams in New York. The rivalry wasn't based on jealousy. It was competitive, it was fun. Much had to do with our being in the same area. There was no such thing as a fan of two teams. You liked the Giants, the Dodgers, or Yankees, and hated the other two teams. That the fans cared so much about their favorite teams fed the rivalries ....
When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947, there was no better player in the league. He was the toughest out and there would be no better competitor during my entire career. He was carrying the cross for the black man and was he ever the right man to do that. He had a lot of talent and a strong personality ....
There were a lot of people who didn't like baseball being integrated. Prejudice was prevalent, without a doubt ... Of course, Jackie's great ability and desire to win had to be admired ... We all kept an eye on him,  watching his progress. It didn't matter if we rooted for him to make it, which many of us did, because he was going to make it in spite of everything. He was that dedicated. He was also mature, not a brash young man. People forget that he wasn't young but almost 30.
--Bill Rigney
We Played the Game
Sources:

We Played the Game, Danny Peary (Editor)
Copyright 1994 by Danny Peary
Published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. (New York), 2002

available at AMAZON