The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson
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But that spring, even before he swung a bat in exhibition, Hack suffered from three problems. One, it was apparent that his weight had increased while he spent the off-season in the limelight of his admirers, whether on the vaudeville stage or -- more often -- in the Elks Club bar in Martinsburg. Two, the new "deadened" ball was a drastic reversal of fortune for major league hitters who had preyed unmercifully on pitchers only a year ago. Three, Wrigley's firing of McCarthy, a smart, flexible manager, and hiring of Rogers Hornsby, an unpopular and zealous disciplinarian, cost both Hack and the Cubs dearly. Hornsby had signed a two-year contract for $40,000 annually, and so the Cubs would get both a player and a manager for that price -- but also plenty of unexpected turmoil.
At Catalina, the Cubs soon discovered that under Hornsby things would be different. He instituted one four-hour, lunchless practice per day; wrote up a weight chart to keep track of players' poundage; and enforced a midnight curfew. All bad signs for Wilson.
Recalled Charlie Grimm, "Hornsby never chewed tobacco or smoked or drank anything at all, and he expected all his ballplayers to live that way. He didn't know how to handle men. We were not allowed to smoke in the clubhouse, not allowed to eat in the clubhouse. Wilson wasn't used to that. Neither one of them liked each other."
Hornsby believed that a player should save his eyesight by not reading or going to the movies.
"We couldn't read," said Woody English. "We couldn't have newspapers. He wanted your mind on baseball, I guess. He was real strict that way. But Hornsby, he liked to play the races. He always had a Racing Form in his hip pocket." The Rajah also banned soda pop from the clubhouse.
"He expected us to be as good as he was," said English. "Everybody was afraid to open his mouth in the clubhouse."
For Hornsby, it wasn't only a matter of focusing his players' attention on the game, but was also an issue of professionalism. "How does it look to the fans to see a guy walking down the runway to the dugout sucking on a cigarette?" he said. "That's bush league stuff."
Hornsby wanted to win. And he expected his players to perform to the best of their abilities. One day he vowed, "We'll be as good if not better than '29." That's exactly what Wrigley wanted to hear.
From Fouled Away: The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson by Clifton Blue Parker.
Copyright © 2000 by Clifton Blue Parker. Reprinted with permission.