The best characters have come from the sport of baseball. We’ve seen some classic nicknames in the game, such as The Babe, The Duke, Yogi, Hack, Casey, Dizzy, Daffy, and Satchell, to name only a few. So why not some quotes and funny phrases associated with the many characters--nicknamed or not--who have brought the sport so alive over the decades?
Let’s start with Casey Stengel, nicknamed “The Ol’ Professor.” Before managing the Yankees for 12 years from 1949-1960, Casey had managed nine uneventful years in the majors--with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves--without taking either team past fifth place. Lo and behold, with the Yankees he won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series and was a newspaperman’s delight at home and on the road. Starting in 1949, he couldn’t believe the talent handed to him on a silver platter, compliments of his shrewd GM George Weiss. “The Yankees don’t pay me to win every game, just two out of three,” he liked to say.
On one occasion, Stengel slid alongside a player and said, “I don’t know if you know this or not, but one of us has been traded to Kansas City.” Stengel also said of infielder Bobby Richardson early in the youngster’s career: “This guy doesn’t drink, smoke or chew, and he still can’t hit .250.”
Upon being fired by the Yankees after losing the seventh game of the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stengel was told by upper management that he was too old at 70 to stay on as the team’s manager. At a crowded press conference, following his dismissal, Stengel said: “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”
For a dozen or so years after breaking the color line in 1947, Dodger Jackie Robinson would often voice his opinion on the Yankees avoiding integration, although they had won five championships in a row from 1949-1953 without any blacks. Following the 1952 World Series in which the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games, Robinson had trouble at the plate against the Yankees’ powerful ace Allie Reynolds, a pitcher of part-Cherokee heritage. Stengel’s response: “Before Mr. Robinson complains about racism, he should learn how to hit an Indian.”
During the 1920s and early 1930s, slugger Babe Ruth was the biggest star in baseball and he wanted to be paid accordingly for his talents and drawing power around the majors. In 1932, the third year of the Great Depression, he was a holdout during contract negotiations with the Yankees, something he always made a habit of on previous occasions. He finally settled on $80,000 for the season. A New York reporter was shocked: “Why, that’s more than Hoover gets for being the President of the United States!” But Ruth had the perfect answer: “What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year.”
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean was another character. During the fourth game of 1934 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Dean was dinged in the head by a throw while he was running into second to break up a double play, and was not knocked out cold. Taken to the hospital for treatment, the St. Louis headlines next day read: “X-rays of Dean’s head reveals nothing.” Dean admitted later that his head was too hard to be hurt by any mere baseball. Another time, when facing a particular rookie batter, Dean yelled from the mound, “Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss?” He also said, “They’ll never be another me.”
Yankees’ not-so-handsome catcher Yogi Berra was in a class by himself, on and off the field. Some of his monumental quotes were:
--“You can observe a lot by watching.”
--“Ninety percent of hitting is physical. The other half is mental.”
--At a banquet: “I’d like to thank all those who made this night necessary.”
--When introduced to famous writer Ernest Hemingway, Berra asked what newspaper he worked for.
--“So I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.”
A favorite Berra quote of mine is the time that Berra flunked a high school exam that left the dismayed teacher asking Yogi: “Mr. Berra, don’t you know anything?” To which the shrugging Berra replied, “I don’t even suspect anything.”
Another personal favorite relates to Florida spring training one year when Berra arrived at a team banquet wearing a fashionable light-tan-colored Panama suit complete with a wide-brimmed fedora. The Miami mayor’s wife took notice enough to praise the catcher by saying, “You look really cool, Mr. Berra.” Berra answered, “You don’t look so hot yourself.”
Yogi’s son, Dale, a major leaguer himself, got into the act with his own tongue-in-cheek comment: “Our similarities are different.”
One of Yogi Berra’s pitchers, southpaw White Ford, especially enjoyed spring training, but for a different reason. And it had to do with physical activity. “The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the spring,” Ford used to say, “is to get a good tan.”
The knuckleball is one of those pitches hard to hit, as well as hard to catch. Two mediocre catchers from the past knew the pitch well. Charlie Lau said, “There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works.” Bob Uecker, in particular, had a tough time hanging on to the knuckleball once it was thrown his way. “The best way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until the ball stops rolling, then pick it up,” was his advice.
As a Cleveland Indian, ageless pitching great Satchell Paige said, “I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I tossed one that ain’t never been seen in this generation.” His teammate, pitcher Bob Lemon, probably spoke for many a major leaguer by uttering, “I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar.”
Dizzy Dean’s opinion of Satchell in the 1930s, while Dean was a Cardinal and Paige was pitching in the Negro Leagues: “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we’d cinch the pennant by July 4 and go fishing until the World Series.”
Cubs powerful slugger Hack Wilson could not have found a better place to his liking than to play in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties when Prohibition was at its height. The team paid him well, and Wilson loved beer and whiskey. A lot. And he seemed to prefer Al Capone’s speakeasies. Asked by a reporter one day if he was ever drunk before a game, he replied, “I never played drunk. Hungover, yes. Drunk, no.” But, he was still known to hit well even with a head-banging hangover. “When I see three balls,” he said, “I just swing at the middle one.”
Jim Brosnan wrote two great first-person baseball books, both in diary form as the season went along. One was Pennant Race, his day-to-day evaluation of his Cincinnati Reds in 1961 as they won the National League pennant race. While other players enjoyed drinking beer and running around, he enjoyed the money. His classic line was: “Cashing checks makes me delirious with joy.”
As for another manager comment, Sparky Anderson may have spoken for all dugout skippers when he said, “A baseball manager is a necessary evil.”
I’ll end with Detroit Tiger great Charlie Gehringer and how he evaluated the great game of baseball. “Us ballplayers do things backward. First we play, then we retire and go to work.”
Despite baseball being big business, it’s still a game: and oftentimes a funny one.