An Oral History
by Harvey and Frederic J. Frommer
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Even though they called me the “Flying Scot” and I was born in Glasgow, Scotland, I have no memories of growing up there, for we left when I was two years old. The family unit was my mother and father, four sisters, and a brother.
I was lucky that I had an older brother who was a pretty good first baseman. He was nine years older than me, and he was my mentor. We played a lot of catch together, mostly in the backyard. My brother often told me how graceful I looked playing ball. He especially liked the way I would go after a fly ball. That gave me confidence. He really had a lot to do with my growing up to be a baseball player.
I was always athletic from the start. In grammar school I was fast and would always win races. As a little kid of seven or eight, I walked miles on a Sunday with my brother just to see a ball game. Maybe it wasn’t miles, but it seemed like miles. I was probably ten years old when I got my first baseball glove. My brother brought it home for me from Sears Roebuck where he worked.
When I was a freshman at Curtis High School, I went out for the baseball team. I lasted until the last uniform was given out. The coach said, “Sorry, son, we don’t have a uniform for you. Show up next year.”
He didn’t have to tell me to show up next year. I was going to anyway. I came back and made the team as a sophomore. I made my share of errors, but I was on the team — the Curtis Warriors.
The coach, Harry O’Brien, ultimately turned out to be a good friend of mine. He was a well-known sportsman on Staten Island and coached basketball and baseball. He was an old Vermonter and would be out there pitching batting practice with a corn cob pipe in his mouth. He was quite a guy.
In my senior year I started to play for a Staten Island semipro team, the Gulf Oilers, a kind of industrial league outfit. They had a much older group of guys. Some of them worked for Gulf Oil and got paid for playing ball on Sundays. I was just a young high school kid, the youngest guy there.
One day George Mack, a scout from the New York Giants, came around to take a look at our big outfielder. He liked what he saw. The big outfielder told me, “Mack said, ‘You will come up to the Polo Grounds and bring that kid shortstop Thomson along with you.’”
I never saw the Polo Grounds until I was invited there to work out. I don’t remember how we got there from Staten Island. But we had to take a bus to the ferry and the ferry to the subway and the subway up. It took at least a couple of hours. I was sixteen, seventeen years old.
I really didn’t get much into the history of baseball, so going into what people called the “fabled” Polo Grounds didn’t have that much of an effect on me. I do not remember much about the tryout, but I would like to think that the glove my brother bought me from Sears Roebuck was long gone by that time. I do remember working out and walking around on that big league ballfield and thinking it was like walking on air.
I got into the batter’s box. I took my swings. Then a coach with a loud voice started giving me the devil. “Get the hell out of there,” he shouted. “Get out.”
“I’m not done,” I protested.
“You’ve had your five swings.”
I didn’t know you were supposed to get out after five swings. I got out. That’s about the only thing I remember clearly from that tryout time.
Ironically, it turned out the Dodgers showed more interest in me than the Giants. Somehow, I don’t know how it happened, the Dodgers made contact with me. I showed up at Ebbets Field for a workout before a game. I changed my clothes in the Dodgers locker room where Pee Wee Reese and some other players were sitting around playing cards. I was amazed. Here there was a game about to be played, and these guys were so relaxed they were playing cards.
I probably did very well at the workout, because I was put on the Dodgers rookie team. We played at different parks all over New York City. I don’t even know how I got to those games. I probably was taking the bus, the train, a boat, and everything else.
The time finally came. I was getting ready to graduate from high school and had made up my mind that I was going to sign with some team. The Dodgers told me not to sign with anyone unless I checked with them. They also told me that they would top any offer, especially if it came from the Giants. An offer did come from the Giants. I was a Giant fan. I ended up signing with them Giants for one hundred bucks a month.
My mother and one of my sisters took me to Manhattan and put me on a bus to go down to Bristol, Virginia. That was how it all began. The time was 1942, August.
I was a pretty scared kid who never had been away from home. Half the season was over when I got down to Bristol. They had a pretty good ball club. I was being groomed as a third baseman, but I didn’t play very much. I didn’t like it there too much. There was a big fat lady who used to holler at the players and scare the hell out of us. It seemed she was always focusing on me. The old New York Giants legend, Bill Terry, was in the front office, and he wanted me to play. About that time Rocky Mount, North Carolina, needed a young guy. World War II was on, and guys were leaving. So I was sent there.
The first night I joined Rocky Mount for a game, the team bus stopped off for us to get a bite to eat in some little place out in the country. I went into the bathroom. When I came out, the bus had taken off without me. There was a trooper sitting there. “You know,” he said to me, “I thought there was still one of you players left.” He took me into his police car, and we went out chasing the bus and caught up with it.
After a time I got a chance to play all the time when the regular Rocky Mount third baseman was called into the service. Our team made the play-offs, and I hit a home run in one of the games. They passed a hat around, and I got about $13, which to me was really a lot considering what I was making.
I never read the Sporting News or any of those baseball type papers. But that fall friends of mine showed me a clipping from the Sporting News that referred to me as “the young kid with significant sloping shoulders a la Pie Traynor,” who was one of the great third basemen. So the home run in those play-offs got me noticed. Later on someone said that homer foreshadowed a home run that I was to hit in another play-off game.
From 1943 to 1945, I was a bombardier in the Air Corps. I was released out in California and was able to play ball on weekends. I worked in a steel factory all week. There was talk of my playing for the San Francisco Seals, an independent and powerhouse team in the Pacific Coast League. But the Giants still owned my contract.
In 1946, the Giants took all the returning servicemen down to a huge spring training camp. I went there figuring I would have to go back down to class-D at Bristol, which I didn’t look forward to. I didn’t want to have to contend with that big fat lady’s hollering.
I did not realize it, but I was the shining star for the New York Giants in spring training. My older brother was home living with my mother. I wasn’t writing letters or saying too much. That was the kind of kid I was. So finally my brother got frustrated not hearing from me or knowing what I was doing with the Giants. He went over to Jersey City and went through all the Jersey City Journals right from the start of spring training. He came across this article which said I was “the diamond in the rough.” Apparently, I was the head of the camp and didn’t realize it.
Opening Day 1946, I played for the Jersey City Giants. I played in the same game Jackie Robinson played in. He was with the Montreal Royals. I had a pretty good year, hitting a lot of home runs. The Giants brought me up the end of the season.
I slept at home. It was a mile from my home to the Roosevelt Stadium ballpark in Jersey City. I took the Hudson Avenue bus to the Bayonne Ferry and took another bus and I was there. I would get home at two o’clock in the morning. It was a wonderful experience, because I did have my friends and relatives around as a cheering section.
I was brought up to the Giants at the end of 1946. Mel Ott was the manager. Bill Rigney was there. Snozz Lombardi was there. I hit a couple of home runs and hit about .315. I played third base.
Scottish people are very low-keyed. I was brought up not to push. That probably hurt me more than anything in my major league career. I did not have much cockiness. I guess I should have been more outgoing. But the way we were brought up was to be seen and not heard — to stay in the background.
That was impossible after October 3, 1951 — when I hit what they called “the Shot Heard ’Round the World,” the home run in the play-offs to beat the Dodgers to put our Giants team into the World Series.
From Growing Up Baseball by Harvey Frommer & Frederic J. Frommer.
Copyright © 2001 by Harvey Frommer & Frederic J. Frommer. Excerpted with permission.