CHARLIE GEHRINGER: I think my first contract was for thirty-five hundred dollars. That was my first year, 1924, when I played for London in the Michigan-Ontario League. They only paid two hundred dollars of it monthly, and Navin had to pick up the rest. I remember my father died that year and I went home three days for the funeral. When I came back I discovered the London club had docked me three days' pay -- which I thought was pretty chintzy.
I lived in Detroit with a family from Fowlerville my first couple of years. Lived in a great neighborhood at that time, but it's deteriorated a little since: Twelfth and Pingree Street. Gee, there were some nice little bungalows. Think I paid ten dollars a week and got good food and lodging.
Mr. Navin was like all the owners then. He was in it to make a living. He was hard to deal with. In those days an owner didn't need millions, but it took some money to move ball players around and what-not. I remember one year during the depression he had to borrow money from the bank to take us to spring training. The situation had to hurt you salarywise, but then, you were happy to play for most anything. Today, everybody's got an agent and he's only too happy to say how successful he is. In those days, you didn't know what anybody made and didn't really seem to care.
Second jobs? I think you had to have one. Very few players stayed here during the winter. Most of them were from the south in those days and they were all pretty much small-town kids. I think they all went back home after the season. Of course, you always had guys who liked to hunt and fish. I didn't care too much for hunting. I never had a gun, and I could never have shot anything if I'd had one. I always said I'd never shoot anything unless it chased me, and so far that hasn't happened.
In the off-season I'd work at J. L. Hudson's, during the holidays. I enjoyed that, gave me something to do, and I met a lot of nice people. I used to take the Trumbull streetcar down. Didn't have a car in those days, so I always jumped on the streetcar and went downtown. Seems like that was the way everybody was going. Good service. At least we didn't know any better. I used to even take the Trumbull streetcar and go back out after a ball game. If you had a bad day, though, you had to put some plugs in your ears. The fans were getting on the same car and you'd hear about it. They'd say, "Who was that turkey playing out there today?"
I used to go on barnstorming tours every year. At that time you didn't have television, so people were curious to see major leaguers play ball. Out west, up north, through the Dakotas ... We went through Canada one year. We used to draw a lot of people and have a lot of fun. We'd have a good club -- Bill Dickey, Heinie Manush, George Uhle -- and play the local teams or another club that traveled with us.
Most of those little-town teams didn't give you much trouble, but those colored teams would. I traveled one year with Satchel Paige and his group of colored boys from Chicago. We went up through the Dakotas and Minnesota and Kansas. Got to bat against Satchel every other day, which wasn't much fun. He could throw that fastball. He also had this hesitation pitch where he'd step forward, hang onto the ball for a second, then let it float up there. Kind of a change of pace. Satchel pitched almost every game. He'd generally start and pitch about three innings. Everybody wanted to see him pitch, so he had to. He was a clown.
They had some great players -- Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard ... It's a shame they couldn't have played in the major leagues. There was a little infielder named Judy Johnson. A super base runner. Leonard was a big husky guy. Pretty potent with a bat. I don't know how well he did, since I never did read his statistics. I don't know how well they were kept. I'm surprised they kept any at all. I remember that Chicago team had a big first baseman by the name of Mule Suttles. Gol, he could hit a ball nine miles. I remember [Earl] Whitehill was our pitcher, and he couldn't get Suttles out. And Whitehill was a good pitcher. Suttles wore poor ol' Whitehill out.
From Cobb Would Have Caught It by Richard Bak.
Copyright © 1991 by Wayne State University Press. Reprinted with permission.