Baseball Short Stories - 12
My Greatest Day in Baseball: Carl Hubbell
My Greatest Day as told to John P. Carmichael and other noted sportswriters (1945)
"King Carl" Hubbell was one of the most efficient left-handers in the majors, and to prove it the records show he won 253 and lost 154 in 16 years with the New York Giants. He mastered the screwball to the point where it was compared to the fadeaway of the immortal Christy Mathewson.
I can remember Frankie Frisch coming off the field behind me at the end of the third inning (of the 1934 All-Star Game), grunting to Bill Terry: "I could play second base 15 more years behind that guy. He doesn't need any help. He does it all by himself." Then we hit the bench, and Terry slapped me on the arm and said: "That's pitching, boy!" and Gabby Hartnett let his mask fall down and yelled at the American League dugout: "We gotta look at that all season," and I was pretty happy.
As far as control and "stuff" is concerned, I never had any more in my life than for that All-Star game in 1934. But I never was a strikeout pitcher like Bob Feller or "Dizzy" Dean or "Dazzy" Vance. My style of pitching was to make the other team hit that ball, but on the ground. It was as big a surprise to me to strike out all those fellows as it probably was to them. Before the game, Hartnett and I went down the lineup ... Gehringer, Manush, Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons, Cronin, Dickey, and Gomez. There wasn't a pitcher they'd ever faced that they hadn't belted one off him somewhere, sometime.
We couldn't discuss weaknesses ... they didn't have any, except Gomez. Finally Gabby said: "We'll waste everything except the screwball. Get that over, but keep your fast ball and hook outside. We can't let 'em hit in the air." So that's the way we started. I knew I had only three innings to work and could bear down on every pitch.
They talk about those All-Star games being exhibition affairs and maybe they are, but I've seen very few players in my life who didn't want to win, no matter whom they were playing or what for. If I'm playing cards for pennies, I want to win. How can you feel any other way? Besides, there were 50,000 fans or more there (in the Polo Grounds), and they wanted to see the best you've got."

L-R: Carl Hubbell, Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry, Gabby Hartnett
Gehringer was first up and Hartnett called for a waste ball just so I'd get the feel of the first pitch. It was a little too close, and Charley singled. Down from one of the stands came a yell: "Take him out!" I had to laugh.
Terry took a couple of steps off first and hollered: "That's all right," and there was Manush at the plate. If I recollect rightly, I got two strikes on him, but then he refused to swing any more, and I lost him. He walked. This time Terry and Frisch and "Pie" Traynor and Travis Jackson all came over to the mound and began worrying. "Are you all right?" Bill asked me. I assured him I was. I could hear more than one voice now from the stands: "Take him out before it's too late."
Well, I could imagine how they felt with two on, nobody out and Ruth at bat. To strike him out was the last thought in my mind. The thing was to make him hit on the ground. He wasn't too fast, as you know, and he'd be a cinch to double. He never took the bat off his shoulder. You could have pushed me over with your little finger. I fed him three straight screwballs, all over the plate, after wasting a fast ball, and he stood there. I can see him looking at the umpire on "You're out," and he wasn't mad. He just didn't believe it, and Hartnett was laughing when he threw the ball back.
So up came Gehrig. He was a sharp hitter. You could double him, too, now and then, if the ball was hit hard and straight at an infielder. That's what we hoped he'd do, at best. Striking out Ruth and Gehrig in succession was too big an order. By golly, he fanned ... and on four pitches. He swung at the last screwball, and you should have heard that crowd. I felt a lot easier then, and even when Gehringer and Manush pulled a double steal and got to third and second, with Foxx up, I looked down at Hartnett and caught the screwball sign, and Jimmy missed. We were really trying to strike Foxx out, with two already gone, and Gabby didn't bother to waste any pitches. I threw three more screwballs, and he went down swinging. We had set down the side on 12 pitches, and then Frisch hit a homer in our half of the first, and we were ahead.

L-R: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin
It was funny, when I thought of it afterwards, how Ruth and Gehrig looked as they stood there. The Babe must have been waiting for me to get the ball up a little so he could get his bat under it. He always was trying for that one big shot at the stands, and anything around his knees, especially a twisting ball, didn't let him get any leverage. Gehrig apparently decided to take one swing at least and he beat down at the pitch, figuring to take a chance on being doubled if he could get a piece of the ball. He whispered something to Foxx as Jim got up from the batter's circle and while I didn't hear it, I found out later he said: "You might as well cut ... it won't get any higher." At least Foxx wasted no time.
Of course the second inning was easier because Simmons and Cronin both struck out with nobody on base and then I got too close to Dickey and he singled. Simmons and Foxx, incidentally, both went down swinging and I know every pitch to them was good enough to hit at and those they missed had a big hunk of the plate. Once Hartnett kinda shook his head at me as if to say I was getting too good. After Dickey came Gomez and as he walked into the box he looked down at Gabby and said: "You are now looking at a man whose batting average is .104. What the hell am I doing up here?" He was easy after all those other guys and we were back on the bench again.
We were all feeling pretty good by this time and Traynor began counting on his fingers. "Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons, Cronin! Hey, Hub, do you put anything on the ball?" Terry came over to see how my arm was, but it never was stronger. I walked one man in the third ... but this time Ruth hit one on the ground and we were still all right. You could hear him puff when he swung. That was all for me. Afterwards, they got six runs in the fifth and licked us, but for three innings I had the greatest day in my life. One of the writers who kept track told me that I'd pitched 27 strikes and 21 balls to 13 men and only five pitches were hit in fair territory.
Homer History
One hundred years ago, Babe Ruth fundamentally changed baseball into what is still today's standard.
Scott Pitoniak, Memories and Dreams: The Official Magazine of the Hall of Fame (Winter 2020)
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the baseball cognoscenti paid short shrift to the long ball. "Small ball" was in vogue. Placement rather than distance was emphasized. Many players choked up on the bat and - in the immortal words of 5-foot-4 Hall of Fame outfield­er Wee Willie Keeler - tried to "hit 'em where they ain't." The goal was to scratch out a run through a series of at-bats. Get runners on. Move them along with bunts, stolen bases and hit-and-run plays. Manufacture offense.
Small ball was born out of necessity during this aptly named Dead Ball Era, when a sin­gle beaten-to-death-by-the-third-inning baseball would be used throughout the game, no matter how mushy or black­ened it became. It was a ball, too, without cork at its core; a spheroid not designed to fly like a current baseball.
That's not to say home runs didn't occur in those bygone days. They did, by the hun­dreds each sea­son. But power ball was considered "stupid" by many. Conventional wisdom said fly balls usually result­ed in outs. For the longest time, home runs weren't even in­cluded in box scores. That's how lowly they were regarded.
Then, on the brink of the Roaring Twenties, a man who would become known as the Sultan of Swat - and at least 50 other nicknames - exploded onto the scene. Babe Ruth would make an indelible impres­sion on horsehides and fans. After decades of being an afterthought, the home run became the most dynamic weapon in baseball and a perma­nent part of American culture, language and lore.

L-R: Wee Willie Keeler, Babe Ruth, Ned Williamson
Ruth's big bang theory proved once and for all that hitting a homer is the best possible thing a batter can do in an at-bat. With one swing, a slugger could produce a run, and several more, depending on the number of base runners. A home run was instant offense. An exclamation point.
In 1919, Ruth set a single-season Major League Baseball record with 29 homers, break­ing Ned Wil­liamson's 1884 mark by two. The next year, the Bambino obliterated his own standard hitting 54. To put his otherworldly achievements into perspective, he out-homer­ed all but one of the other 15 big league teams. And that team, the Philadelphia Phillies, hit 64 home runs in the tiny Baker Bowl.
Fans fell in love with Ruth - and the home run - as his 1920 New York Yankees be­came the first pro­fessional sports team to draw more than a million spectators. And Ruth would have a pied piper effect on other hitters, who followed his lead and began swinging for the fences every time they stepped to the plate.
Today, a century later, baseball's homer odyssey continues at a dizzying, record-smash­ing pace. The game that Ruth built saw 6,776 home runs smacked in 2019, exceeding by 671 the previous MLB mark established just two years earlier. And that skyward trend figures to continue, when you factor in bigger, stronger players; smaller, hitter-friendly ballparks; livelier baseballs; and analytics that show an all-or-nothing approach is the best strategy, even if it means a drastic increase in strikeouts.
Thanks to modern-day mashers like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge and Fernando Tatis Jr., and data-crunching Sabermetricians obsessed with launch angles and exit velocity, small ball has been sent packing.
To paraphrase some famous home run calls: "It's gone - and it ain't coming back. Kiss it goodbye."
The Babe's perfect storm
Timing, they say, is everything in life and in baseball, and that certainly was the case with Ruth, whose timing proved impeccable. His arrival coincided with a triple play of good fortune that contributed to him lifting baseballs and his sport to heights not witnessed before.
Certainly the biggest part of the equation was Ruth's brutish strength, surgical hand-eye coordination and fluid, left-handed swing reportedly modeled after Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the marquee hit­ters of the early 20th century. But the Bambino also benefitted from the introduction of the livelier ball, the elimination of the spitball and other trick pitches, and the frequent replacement of worn baseballs with new ones throughout the game.

L-R: Joe Jackson, Ray Chapman, Carl Mays, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner
The cork-centered baseball was used full-time starting in 1911, and though it didn't result immediately in a long-ball game, it would set the stage. Balls doctored with spit, tobacco juice, gels and other foreign substances gave pitchers a decided edge, so the elimination of this practice in 1920 swung the advan­tage back to batters. And the acci­dental beanball death of Ray Chapman on an errant pitch by Carl Mays on Aug. 16, 1920, forced MLB to seek ways to make the game safer. This resulted in smudged balls being thrown out of play and replaced with new ones that were easier for batters to see.
And when he was acquired by the Yankees, Ruth found the short right field fences at the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium a perfect fit for his swing.
Ruth's rebellious nature also was a factor. Despite being regarded as the American League's top left-handed pitcher, he insisted on becoming an everyday player so he could do what he enjoyed doing best. His slugging defied the "scientific" small-ball strategy preached by Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie and other star players of that era. Cobb, in particular, would ridicule him, but the Babe would get the last laugh. "If I just tried for them dinky singles, I could've batted around .600," Ruth sneered.
His goal was 60, not .600, and after clubbing 59 homers in 1921, he would reach his magical mark six years later. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Josh Gibson, Jimmie Foxx, Hack Wilson and Lou Gehrig were among the many who began mimick­ing Ruth. Not surprisingly, home run totals more than doubled during the decade.
"By the fall of 1927, Babe Ruth had completely reshaped the game of baseball, bending it to his will," author Jane Leavy wrote in her bestselling book The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created. ... Subtlety was banished. Clout was all. Ruth had taught America to think big - expect big."
Launchers of homers would become baesball's biggest stars. As Fritz Ostermueller opined in a quote often attributed to his Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame teammate Ralph Kiner: "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords."
                    Origin of the Slider                      
A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches,Tyler Kepner (2019)
The origins of the slider, as we know it now, are murky. In 1987, hundreds of former players respond­ed to surveys for a book called Players' Choice. They answered many questions, including the best slider of their day. Pete Donohue, a three-time 20-game winner for the Reds in the 1920s, could not give a name: "We didn't have one when I pitched," he replied.
Hmm–but what is this pitch, if not a slider? "It was a narrow curve that broke away from the batter and went in just like a fastball," said the great Cy Young, describing a pitch he threw in a career that ended in 1911.
Contemporaries of Young, like Chief Bender, an ace of the early Philadelphia A's, probably threw it, too. Bender's name virtually demanded he not throw straight, and he was, you might say, the chief bender of pitches in his era. Listing his repertoire for Baseball Magazine in 1911, Bender first mentioned his "fast curves," which would seem pretty close to what we now call a slider. George Blaeholder and George Uhle, whose careers ended in 1936, were early pioneers. Blaeholder, who pitched mostly for the Browns, had sweeping action on his fastball that was said to baffle Jimmie Foxx. Uhle, a 200-game winner, developed the slider late in his career, after his prime with the 1920s Indians. It startled Harry Heilmann, a Detroit teammate who was hitting off Uhle in batting practice.
"What kind of curve is that?" Heilmann asked.
"Hey, that's not a curve," Uhle replied. "That ball was sliding."

L-R: Pete Donohue, Chief Bender, George Blaeholder, George Uhle
Waite Hoyt, an admiring teammate and the ace of the fabled 1927 Yankees, compared its action to a car skidding on ice. He added the pitch himself and credit Uhle for inventing it. Uhle told author Walter Langford that, as far as he knew, he threw it first.
"At least I happened to come up with it while I was in Detroit," he said. "And I gave it its name be­cause it just slides across. It's just a fastball you turn loose in a different way. When I first started throw­ing it, the batters thought I was putting some kind of stuff on the ball to make it act that way."
Red Ruffing used a slider in his Hall of Fame career, which include four 20-win seasons in a row for the Yankees from 1936 through 1939. In that final season, the National League MVP was the Reds' Bucky Walters, a former third baseman who had learned a slider a few years earlier from Bender, a fellow Philadelphian. Walters led his league in all the major categories in 1939, and the next year lifted the Reds to their only World Series title between the Black Sox and the Big Red Machine–a span of 55 seasons.

L-R: Waite Hoyt, Red Ruffing, Bucky Walters, Spud Chandler
In 1943, another MVP threw the slider: the Yankees' Spud Chandler, who shut out the Cardinals to clinch that fall's World Series. Chandler had learned the pitch from Ruffing, whose influence Rob Ney­er and Bill James cited as a reason the slider soon made a breakthrough. The other factors, they said, were Walters' success and the fact that the pitch now had a name; it was not just another breaking ball. After three years at war, Ted Williams noticed the trend:
We began to see sliders in the league around 1946 or 1947, and by 1948 all the good pitchers had one. Before that there were pitchers whose curves acted like sliders. Hank Borowy threw his curve hard and it sank and didn't break too much, so it acted like a slider. Johnny Allen's was the same way. Claude Passeau's fastball acted like s slider.
Williams called the slider "the greatest pitch in baseball," easy for a pitcher to learn and control. He worried about grounding the slider into the infield shift, reasoning that the only way he could put it in the air was by looking for it. Most hitters are late on the fastball if they sit on the slider, but Williams was not like most hitters. He batted .419 off the Browns' Ned Garver and .377 off the Tigers' Jim Bunning, who otherwise thrived with sliders.
"The big thing the slider did was give the pitcher a third itch right away," Williams wrote in his book, My Turn at Bat. "With two pitches you might guess right half the time. With three, your guessing goes down proportionately."
Williams believed the popularity of the slider helped drive averages down. Bob Feller, the best pitcher Williams said he ever saw, had fiddled with the slider in 1941, and perfected it by the time he returned from the war. Mixing a slider with his devastating fastball and curve in 1946, Feller struck out 348–then considered the American League record. He described the pitch like this:
It can be especially effective for a fast ball pitcher because it comes up to the plate looking like a fast ball. It has less speed, but not enough for the hitter to detect the slightly reduced speed early in the pitch.
The slider darts sharply just before it reaches the plate, away from a right-handed hitter when thrown by a right-handed pitcher. It doesn't break much–four to six inches–but because it breaks so late, the hitter has trouble catching up to it.
I didn't invent the slider–I merely popularized it. The pitch has been around since Christy Math­ewson's time.

L-R: Ted Williams, Hank Borowy, Johnny Allen, Claude Passeau, Bob Feller
The slider's transformative power showed up in Feller's statistics, and in his clubhouse. Phil Rizzuto said that in his rookie season, 1941, the only pitcher he faced who threw sliders regularly was Al Milnar of the Indians. Feller was on that team, and so was Mel Harder, who taught the slider a few years later to Bob Lemon, who went on to the Hall of Fame. The logic behind the pitch was so easy to understand, and the pitch itself so simple to learn–generally, but not always: off-center grip, pressure applied to the middle finger, and possibly a late, subtle wrist snap–yet there remained an odd kind of backlash against it into the 1950s.
Pitchers threw fastballs and curveballs, sometimes a trick pitch like a knuckleball, and a spitball if they could conceal it. The conventional wisdom was that learning a slider would harm a pitcher's curve­ball. A curveball demands a different arm action–wrapping the wrist and pulling hard, straight down, to generate furious topspin. Throw too many sliders and you might lose the feel for staying on top of the curve.
"If you have a good curve, it's foolish to add the slider," said Sal Maglie, a curveball master who was turned away from using a slider by Uhle for that reason. "But all the young pitchers today are lazy. They all look for the easy way out, and the slider gives 'em that pitch."
Maglie said this in 1962, in an Esquire article that included his assertion that Roger Maris had feast­ed off sliders while blasting 61 homers the year before. To Maglie, expansion and "all the second-line pitchers in the league throwing sliders" had added at least 10 homers to Maris's total. The pitch was widely derided as a "nickel curve"–a breaking ball, yes, but a cheap knockoff of the real thing. That term is long gone, but "cement mixer," which describes a lazy and obvious slider, persists today.
The critics of the slider were blind to its impact. In his book Head Game, Roger Kahn asserted that the slider "saved major league baseball from becoming extended batting practice" after the offensive boom of the 1930s. That era had its masters–Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean, Carl Hubbell–but few others were much better than ordinary. The slider gave pitchers a weapon they could learn and control with relative ease, a pitch that looked like a fastball much longer than the curveball did.
"I could always tell a curveball from a fastball in the first 30 feet of flight," Stan Musial told Kahn. "I picked up the speed of the ball and I'd know just what the ball was going to do. Break or hop. The slider was tougher. I get my share of hits off sliders. But during the years I played for the Cardinals, the slider changed the game."
             You Have to Threaten the Bottom Line - 1               
Bill White with Gordon Dillow, Uppity: My Life in Baseball (2011)
White was the Cardinals first baseman from 1959-1965.
One morning in early March 1961, I was in the Cardinals clubhouse in St. Petersburg when I saw an announcement posted on the bulletin board. It said that the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce's annual "Salute to Baseball" breakfast was being held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and it included a list of Cardinals players who were invited.
Not one of the players listed was black. That was bad enough. Then I saw that the list included a couple of rookies who had never swung a bat in the majors. The idea that the local bigwig wanted to honor unproven players while ignoring proven players because of the color of their skin rankled me. No, it more than rankled me. Combined with all the other crap that black players had to take, it made me furious.
After I saw that invitation, and despite being wary of the press, I spotted Associated Press sports reporter Joe Reichler and called him over and told him about it. I told him the truth. I told him how I felt about the segregated accommodations and other indigni­ties. I asked him when we were going to start being treated like human beings. "How much longer must we accept this without saying a word on our own behalf?" I said. "I think about this every minute of the day. I'm a member of the ball club, but I can't stay at the same hotel with the white players. These players are my friends, yet I can't go swim­ming with them. I can't even go to the movies with them. Driving on the highways, I've got to be on the lookout for a Negro restaurant to eat because they won't let me in where the white folks eat. But the filling stations on the road have no compunction about selling me gas. The greenback knows no color.

L-R: Bill White, Joe Reichler, Wendell Smith, Howard Cosell
"These things go on every day and yet they advise us to take it easy, we're making progress, don't push it too fast, it will come. How much longer are we to wait? When will we be made to feel like humans? When will they throw away those signs that read FOR WHITES ONLY, or FOR COLORED ONLY? As long as those things continue to go on, I'd rather not train here. I'd rather train somewhere else, like Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic or Arizona."
Joe was a sympathetic guy, but I didn't know what he would do with what I'd said. It turned out that later that day he sent a story out over the wires, with all of those com­ments, and with my name on them.
Joe's story wasn't the first press coverage concerning resentment among black players about the conditions in Florida. Later I learned that a couple of months previous, a veteran black reporter named Wendell Smith had written some articles about the inequities between white and black players in spring training in Florida for the Chicago American. Smith deserves a lot of credit for that.
Smith's article was based entirely on unnamed sources - and for good reason. Black ballplayers rightly feared that if they spoke out by name, they might be sent down to the minors or even cut from their major league organizations. Black baseball players, like blacks everywhere, weren't supposed to "rock the boat.".
As far as I know I was the first active black major league ballplayer to speak out in the press, by name, at length, against the unfair treatment black players were experiencing in Florida spring training, not only in hotel accommodations but in every aspect of life. And the reason I was willing to do that was simple, the same principle that had guided me throughout my baseball career–I wasn't afraid of losing my job. I was 27 years old, had completed two years of college, and was making a decent salary–about $20,000 in 1961. I didn't have enough money to retire, but I was confident that if my baseball career was derailed by what I'd said, I could do something else–maybe even finish college and go on to medical school.
Joe Reichler's story ran in newspapers across the country. Broadcast sports reporters, on the other hand, ignored it–with one exception. The exception was an odd-looking lawyer-turned-broadcaster named Howard Cosell, who had a show called Speaking of Sports on the ABC radio network and was sympathetic to the black players' frustrations. Later other black ballplayers started speaking up as well. But what really made it a hot issue as far as the Cardinals management was concerned was beer.
One of the papers that picked up Reichler's story was a black newspaper in East St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Illinois. An editorial in the paper suggested that if this was the way the Anheuser-Busch company, which had bought the Cardinals in 1953, treated its black ballplayers, then maybe black people should boycott the company's beer.
This was now serious. Morality and social conscience may in some cases cause large companies to eventually take action, but nothing gets them moving faster than a threat to the bottom line.
To be continued ...
              You Have to Threaten the Bottom Line – 2              
Bill White with Gordon Dillow, Uppity: My Life in Baseball (2011)
Read Part 1.
Within days of my comments being published, with talk of a Budweiser beer boycott in the air in the black community, I got a visit in St. Petersburg from my old minor league manager Eddie Stanky, who was working in the Cardinals' front office. When he walked into the clubhouse, everybody wondered what Eddie was doing there, but I knew immediately.
Eddie invited me to go fishing, and that afternoon on a little outboard motorboat on Tampa Bay, Eddie got down to business.
"I know you have some concerns about this housing issue, Bill," he said. "But this is bringing a lot of heat on the company [Anheuser-Busch] and the team. We really need you to back off. Can't you just concentrate on baseball for now, and leave politics out of it?"
I had always liked Eddie and still did. But I wasn't going to back down.
"You know I have a lot of respect for you," I told him. "But no, I'm not going to back off, not on this issue. What's going on in St. Petersburg is wrong, and as long as black players in spring training are made to feel inferior, I'm going to speak up."
I think Eddie understood. And though he couldn't say so publicly, I think he actually respected what I was doing.
I also got a visit from a guy named Roscoe McCrary, a reporter for The St. Louis Argus, a black newspaper in which Anheuser-Busch advertised heavily. Roscoe said he wanted to do a story on me, but I could tell from the softball tone of his questions that he wanted me to downplay complaints about conditions for black ballplayers in St. Petersburg.

L-R: Al Fleishman, Elston Howard, Dr. Ralph Wimbish, Bill White as NL President
"Listen, Roscoe," I said, "this is not a good place for us to have spring training. If you try to soften up what's going on down here just to help a big advertiser, you'll be doing all of us a disservice. If you do that, I won't be happy–and believe me, I'll let people in St. Louis know that you're trying to sugarcoat this."
Roscoe got the message. His subsequent story wasn't as hard hitting as I would have liked, but he didn't sugarcoat what I said.
And finally I got a visit from one of the big guns, Al Fleishman, head of the Fleishman-Hillard public relations agency, which represented the brewing company. But as it turned out, Al's message wasn't exactly the one the company wanted.
"They wanted me to tell you to cool down," Al told me. "But the hell with that. The last thing you want to do now that you've got their attention is to cool down. You need to keep pressure on their ass."
Al was a good guy, and like a lot of Jewish Americans, he had no patience with racial and ethnic bigotry. It probably didn't help Al's mood that many hotels in St. Petersburg excluded not only blacks but also Jews.
Meanwhile, fearful of losing the millions of dollars that spring training brought into the local economy, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce backed down. Insisting that it had all been an unfortunate mistake, they invited me and another black player, Elston Howard of the Yankees, to the Salute to Baseball breakfast at the yacht club.
The Yankees ordered Elston to attend, and Dr. Wimbish (president of the St. Petersburg NAACP) and others urged me to go as well. But I knew the chamber and the yacht club weren't advocating full integration. The club still wouldn't let NAACP member Dr. Swain dock his boat there. I wanted to let them known that I had a choice–and my choice was not to go.
I hadn't wanted to eat with those bigots anyway. All I had really wanted, what all the black players wanted, was simply the opportunity to say no.
The end result of all this was that while Cardinals management initially tried to downplay the race issue, eventually the public pressure was too great, not only on the Cardinals but on all the teams. The Cardinals finally demanded that the Vinoy Park Hotel open itself to black players.
The hotel refused, so in order to help keep spring training in St. Petersburg, a local businessman bought a beachfront motel called the Outrigger and made it available to all Cardinals players and their families, black and white. As a show of solidarity, players who usually stayed in private beachfront homes, like Stan Musial and Ken Boyer, also moved into the Outrigger.
So by the start of spring training in 1962, all the Cardinals were living under the same roof and eating at the same on-site restaurant. For the first time, black players felt comfortable bringing their families to spring training. Our kids went to integrated events organized by the players' wives. Black players and white players and their families were even swimming in the same pool. All this integration was so un­heard of in Florida that people would drive by the motel all day just to gawk and stare.
The whole controversy helped black players realize that they had power–or at least some public leverage. When Southern cities like Houston and Atlanta were trying to get major league teams, Mil­waukee Braves CF Billy Bruton and I got the Major League Baseball Players Association to vote unanimously not to play in any city that required black and white players to use separate living facilities.
Of course, ending separate living arrangements for baseball players in Florida didn't end segregation altogether. Over the next few years, and especially after passage of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act that banned discrimination in public facilities, Dr. Wimbish would often recruit me and other black players while we were in St. Petersburg for spring training to help break the now illegal, but still very real, color barrier in local restaurants.
Dr. Wimbish would stop by the Outrigger and pick up Bob Gibson and me and say, "Tonight we're going to integrate this restaurant," or "Tonight we're going to this 'whites-only' club." We'd walk in and order a drink or some food, and while we got a lot of looks, no one ever gave us any trouble. We always dressed nicely, spoke in quiet tones, and in general acted respectably. Later Bob said it was like having dinner with a new girlfriend's parents night after night; you always had to be on your best behavior.
I've always been proud of what I did back then, that I had spoken up. Once again, no one person ever single-handedly defeats widespread social injustice; that takes millions of hands. Still, the spring training controversy focused a lot of attention on me.
And of all the messages of support I received, there is one that stands out. It came in the form of a letter from a man I had never gotten to know very well, but one whom I deeply admired, a man who had suffered greatly in the cause of equality. Today the letter remains one of my most cherished posses­sions.
"Dear Bill," the letter said. "I just wanted you to know that I appreciate everything that you've done for black baseball players. Keep up the fight."
The letter was signed, "Jackie Robinson."
Postscript: In 1989, in a unanimous vote, Bill White was elected to replace new Baseball Commis­sioner Bart Giamatti as National League president.