Golden Age of Baseball in Detroit
by Richard Bak
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I had a reputation for always taking the first pitch, but that was only partly true. I hit a lot with men on base. In those days we had a lot of knuckleball and spitball pitchers. You're in trouble with two strikes against those kind of guys, so I didn't take too many pitches from them. They would try to get ahead of you with a fastball and so I was pretty much inclined to hit that one.
But against the average pitcher, I thought I was a better hitter with two strikes. Many times you go up there and think, well, I've got two or three more pitches, and you get careless. You swing at bad balls and make an out. With two strikes you concentrate more, you cut down on your swing and put the ball in play.
Look at Joe Sewell. He struck out only four times one year with the Indians. Best I ever did was thirteen. But Sewell, I think he struck out thirty times total in one five-year span.
Joe was a punch hitter. He choked up on that bat. A lot of guys did. You have control of it. If you're any kind of a hitter, and the pitcher's overpowering you, you can still at least foul off the pitch. That's what makes me so mad today. The guys who can't hit home runs are still swinging for them. With a runner on third and less than two outs and they don't get him in, I just ... cringe. How do managers put up with that? And you see it so much today.
When you choke up on the bat you don't have to start it so quick. These big guys now, once they start their swing they can't stop it. There's so many strikes called on that half-swing, it's ridiculous. The first-base and third-base umpires are now doing most of the umpiring. In the old days you could get away with that pretty good. Back then, all the umpiring was done behind the plate.
We had very few run-ins with umpires in my day. I never got thrown out of a game. I could never understand what an umpire's ancestry had to do with a call, anyway. I felt you had to be friendly with them or you're not going to get the best of it. I would never turn around and tell them that they did this or that wrong. If I wanted to say something to them, I'd say it out of the corner of my mouth or look the other direction. Try showing them up, and you'll be in the showers.
We played the Cardinals in the '34 World Series. To this day I think Brick Owens, the umpire, beat us out of the championship. We had St. Louis down, three games to two, and we should've won the sixth game. Late in the game, Owens called Cochrane out on a play at third even though all of the photographs show that he was safe by a mile. We wound up losing to Paul Dean by a run. Had Cochrane been called safe on that play, we would've had the bases loaded with nobody out and we could've had a big inning. Then in game seven, Dizzy Dean shut us out, 11-0, and that was that.
That was the game where we had all of the tossing of the fruit. Ducky Medwick of the Cardinals slid hard into Marv Owen in a play at third, and that started it. At that point, the game was all but over, and the fans were venting their frustration. I never saw so much fruit in my life. There must've been a fruit truck out in left field making deliveries because the fans kept throwing stuff and finally they had to take Medwick out of the game just to restore peace.
It was very frustrating to come so far and then lose. We were just as good as St. Louis, though that Gas House Gang had some great pitchers -- the two Deans, Bill Hallahan, and Bill Walker. The Deans, of course, each won two games in the series, though we beat Dizzy one game in St. Louis, 3-1. Paul could throw harder than Dizzy, but he didn't have the curve or know-how. He was just a Dizzy Trout-type pitcher -- just go out there and throw as hard as he could for as long as he could. I still say we should've beaten Paul Dean in that sixth game.
From Cobb Would Have Caught It by Richard Bak.
Copyright © 1991 by Wayne State University Press. Reprinted with permission.