Monday, May 23, 2016

The Guide to Pete Rose Literature

Pete Rose frequently said that he wrote more books than he read and that is probably true. He has had more major release books published than any baseball player of his era. With Cincinnati fans looking forward to the return of their prodigal son--for induction into the team’s Hall of Fame--this summer, I thought this might be a good time to review the Pete Rose literature. It’s a worthwhile exercise to look at them all at once because of the vast dissimilarities which the books display while discussing the same subject and the different stories from the different eras.

I should note that there have been several quality Pete Rose books by minor publishers, such as McFarland, but in the interest of brevity, I will stick to the major publishing house releases.


The Pete Rose Story: An Autobiography. 1970. Author: unknown.

This is Pete’s first big book. At the time of release, Rose was a local star in Cincinnati—he had hit over .300 in five straight seasons and had led the National League in batting the previous two. Nationally, however, he was known only as a good singles hitter and a guy who sprinted to first after walks and slid head first into bases. He wouldn’t have cracked anyone’s all-star outfield of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente; or even been picked over Billy Williams or maybe Lou Brock. There had been no Ray Fosse collision, no Bud Harrelson fight, no 1975 Series; none of the rest. So the book is interesting as a jumping off point.

The first great mystery of this book is the identity of the writer. Yes sports fans, it says right on the cover that it is an autobiography, but we can safely assume that Peter Edward Rose did not sit down with a Smith Corona typewriter and peck this out. Nowhere on this book does it say who the real author is, so we must conclude that this is one of the good old fashioned ghost-written books; the kind that were popularly foisted on the sporting public in the first half of the twentieth century. 

From his earliest days in Cincinnati, Pete was very friendly and cooperative with most members of the media and the Reds were covered by some great sportswriters in those days, three of whom—Ritter Collett and Sy Burick from Dayton papers and Earl Lawson from the Cincinnati Post—have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame writer’s wing. Possibly it was one of them; or maybe it was some hack lined up by Pete’s advisors.

From the verbiage and grammar, it doesn’t take long for the reader to conclude that Pete’s ghost-writer was actually Beaver Cleaver. And that’s okay. The book is written in the classic old-school style of baseball literature which was pervasive at the time—the kind in which the public was supposed to believe that all baseball players lived in a 1950s black and white television show. All those guys really cared about was playing baseball. Girls, money and the rest were not even a thought—or so they would have you believe. Of course at the time this book was being thrown together, Leonard Shecter and Jim Bouton were lurking somewhere in the shadows preparing their manuscript of Ball Four that would change the baseball literary world forever and render this type of product obsolete.

As a latter-day Huck Finn of the diamond, Pete recounts harmless pranks and high jinks from his formative years. His idea of mischief as a kid, apparently, was going to the local Frisch’s Big Boy (“where they sell those double-decker hamburgers”), order a Coke and sit in the booth for a couple of hours without spending any more money—scandalous stuff. According to the book, he enjoyed more of the light-hearted frivolity in professional baseball; just a bunch of G-rated jokes and fun among the guys.

He mentions several times that he never had much luck with the ladies [We will learn later that this is a gross understatement].

While Pete sets the basis for the theme repeated in every future telling of his story by mentioning repeatedly how much he admires and respects his father (who would die later that year), this book is otherwise totally without substance. He rambles for pages and, when you read and reread it, you realize that absolutely nothing is said. There is no insight and very few truly amusing anecdotes; just generalities and statements to the effect that his fellow players, owners, general manager, managers at every level, sportswriters, fans, umpires and even his army reserve drill sergeant were all “swell” guys. At the time, no one expected him to throw anyone under the bus, but he could have added some personality or color to his costars.

The book devotes 21 pages to Rose’s post-1967 season goodwill trip to Vietnam with Joe DiMaggio, who he repeatedly states that he idolizes. While there are some decent accounts of the various places they visited, a good editor would have cut this part in half, as it tends to ramble aimlessly long. Also, Pete informs us that Joe D was a classy guy no less than six times—class I tell you, class.

This book does shed a little light for Pete Rose historians in two important areas. It is obvious that Pete was an exceptional athlete—not the slow, plodding guy with no ability who made himself into a great player only because he willed it so (as some later historians would have us believe). Sure, Pete had more determination than anyone else and possibly worked harder and smarter as well, but he was nonetheless a great athlete to begin with, although admittedly a late bloomer. In football, he played halfback for a large Cincinnati high school and scored a number of touchdowns, sometimes as many as four a game, many on long, twisting broken field runs of 50 or 60 yards. Try doing that with only determination and no speed. He turned down a college football scholarship to the nearby University of Miami (of Ohio)—the place that gave us Paul Brown, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler and Ben Roethlisberger—no small feat in itself.

Also, according to later lore, Rose was very lucky to be signed by the Reds at all, and only because his uncle badgered the front office. From this book we learn that the Baltimore Orioles were very interested in Pete as well. Pete had been a regular at workouts at Crosley Field for some time and was tearing up a Dayton-area amateur league, playing against mostly older men, as a senior in high school (because his eligibility had been used up due to repeating tenth grade). Sure, his uncle, Buddy Bloeblum, helped, but the penny-pinching Reds gave Rose a $7,000 bonus when he signed. That was more than they would give a young decent-looking catcher and second-round draft choice from Oklahoma five years later; a kid named Johnny Bench. So Rose was obviously at least somewhat regarded.

Pete downplays the later well-documented troubles he had with veterans while breaking in with the Reds as a rookie. He says he only noticed that “some of the other guys resented me” when reporter Earl Lawson mentioned it to him. He says it was only a few guys and “most of them were swell guys.” [in reality, almost every veteran except for Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson resented Rose a great deal—in part because he was so obnoxious—to the point that they tried to freeze him out and ignore him]. He does mention that Pinson and Robinson took him under their wings and helped him, without further explanation.

All in all, this book is somewhat hard to get through and in the end leaves the reader with very little true information. Read it only if you want to waste a few hours and see how truly ungratifying early sports biographies could be.


Charlie Hustle. 1975. By Pete Rose and Bob Hertzel.

This book moves us into the modern era. In 1974 Pete Rose was coming off a 230-hit, MVP season and was now a nationally-recognized force of nature. Pete’s co-author on this one is young Cincinnati Enquirer beat reporter Bob Hertzel. The book is a diary of the 1974 season, a season in which Rose slumps to .284—his first sub-.300 season since 1964—and the Reds chase, and can’t catch, the Los Angeles Dodgers all year, but it is sprinkled liberally with stories from Rose’s past.

This is the most entertaining of all of Pete’s books. It is filled with anecdotes, many of which are very funny. There are several items about almost all of Pete’s famous teammates and managers. There is also quite a bit of real baseball in the book as the Reds try unsuccessfully to overtake the Dodgers and Pete tries unsuccessfully to replicate his 1973 season. Hertzel does an excellent job of moving the story along and editing Pete’s memories. And he probably does the best of all of Pete’s co-authors over the years of showing Pete’s true “voice.” While Pete shows a salty humor, explains that major league baseball players sometimes expel intestinal gas on the team bus—and find it funny-- and let’s fly with a few damns, hells and a shit or two, it is still essentially PG-13.

Overall, this is a very good baseball read and highly recommended to anyone who wants to know about the Cincinnati Reds and baseball in the 1970s.


Pete Rose: My Story. 1989.   Pete Rose and Roger Kahn.

I’ll resist the temptation to call this one “The Wrath of Kahn,” but in order to fully understand the book, and it’s afterlife, it is necessary to understand the sordid back-story. This book started out as one of those great ideas: let’s match up the guy who wrote one of baseball’s all-time most popular books with one of baseball’s all-time most popular players—what could go wrong? Pete was fresh off breaking Ty Cobb’s record and riding high. Kahn was in his early 60s—still in the prime of his writing career--and still basking in the glory of The Boys of Summer.

The book opens with the quote “Hey Rog, I’ll never lie to you.” The speaker was Pete Rose. We would later discover that the quote turned out to be quite untrue.

Kahn later stated that he had reservations from the start, but the publisher assured him it was a million-dollar deal—half for him and half for Rose. That promise was enough to pull him in. Things started off well; Rose was initially very cooperative and helpful in telling his story and allowing Kahn unlimited access. History stepped in, however, as life unexpectedly turned sour for the Pete Rose camp midway through the writing process—the whole gambling deal broke and Rose was suspended.

Kahn and Pete hung in there on the book, however reluctantly, and they used the last few chapters as a sounding board to advertise Pete’s total and absolute innocence to any and all charges. And this is where Kahn went wrong--he ends up looking very, very bad [you could add as many very’s as you want here and you would still underestimate]. This came to be viewed as his worst book and substantially damaged his reputation as a journalist.

As far as the book itself, thanks to its author, the first half is highly readable. It is written in conversational style, with Pete spinning stories and Kahn keeping the account moving and on target and interposing his own research. Rose recounts some of the same anecdotes as recounted in his previous books, however some have different versions. Kahn did a lot of legitimate journalism as he personally interviewed a large number of people from Rose’s past, including his first wife, his high school football coach, the high school quarterback, the football coach at the University of Miami who offered Rose a football scholarship, the general manager of the Macon Peaches and quite a few teammates from various years.  Many of the quotes Kahn unearthed for this book from these sources have been pinched liberally in future Pete Rose books.

This book provides the first mention of the since-oft-repeated stories of Pete’s father breaking a hip on a kick-off play in a semi-pro game and crawling to make the tackle, of toddler Pete breaking a window on their house with a line drive and his father refusing to ever repair the window—because it was a historic artifact, of his father spending money meant for his daughter’s shoes on baseball equipment for Pete, and explains the feisty toughness of Pete’s mother. Kahn also scores a print-first discussing the traffic ticket a married-for-one-year Pete got at 4:30 AM in 1965 across the river in the garden of evil, Newport, Kentucky.

On the downside, Kahn annoyingly and needlessly inserts himself and his views of politics and anthropology which, in truth, should have been hacked out by a good editor. He disparages former President Nixon no less than three times in the pages, once mentioning that unscrupulous writers tried to make Rose look “as guilty as Nixon.” This is curious because when the book was published, Nixon had been out of politics nearly twenty years [Editor’s note to Kahn: Get over it! Find a new source for similes].

Also, the account of Pete’s playing career seems hurried. Many parts are skimmed over abruptly, especially the Philadelphia years which are covered in about a paragraph.

This book is a much more earthy than previous Pete Rose books. There are quite a few f-bombs and Kahn hints at Pete’s well-documented womanizing ways, but makes light of them. He writes charitably of Pete’s first marriage, “with years, the love grew hard for both of them,” apparently saving Pete’s fans from the nasty truth.

The book takes a sinister turn and drives off a cliff suddenly two-thirds of the way through. This is the point in the narrative where the gambling scandal erupts. Perhaps Kahn is aware that, as an authorized biography, Pete and his lawyers have ultimate editorial control and he becomes so intent on making his collaborator happy with the book that he loses all sense of intelligence or reasoning. Or perhaps Kahn experiences a severe case of the literary Stockholm Syndrome. Page after page is filled with haphazard and nonsensical bleatings defending Rose from all charges. The diatribes against major league baseball and especially the Dowd report sound hollow and are full of holes. They are also very sad when viewed with the knowledge that we currently have.

Perhaps feeling a little self-conscious and having doubts himself, Kahn mentions in the book that Pete can be very persuasive when he looks you in the eye. I am reminded of a passage in The Boys of Summer in which young reporter Roger Kahn is intimidated by manager Eddie Stanky into believing, and printing, a complete lie. The next day Stanky laughs, admits his deceit and dares Kahn to do anything about it. Apparently, Kahn did not learn his lesson about looking ballplayers in the eye for the truth.

In a key chapter of the book, entitled The Gambler, Rose and Kahn lay out the defense of the charges of gambling on baseball: Rose was framed by low-life hangers-ons who were mad at him; all of their accusations were completely baseless and made up. And the alleged fingerprints on betting slips were smudged and hard to decipher. And Pete had handwriting experts ready to testify that none of the handwriting was his in the first place. And, anyway, Pete Rose had too much respect for baseball, and its rules, to ever, ever even consider gambling.

Kahn irreparably sullies himself by repeatedly making light of the charges and the journalists who pursued them. He writes of Rose being set up by “warbling felons,” states that the report of baseball’s chief investigator John Dowd “smelled,” and would unravel with the slightest review. Kahn writes that he hopes the career of Senator Joseph McCarthy would not be forgotten and compares Dowd to “Inspector Javert of Les Cincinnati Miserables.” Really? These are all Kahn’s words, not Rose’s.

As for Rose, he merely states unequivocally, “I swear I never bet baseball.”
For those not paying close attention, I’ll repeat: “I swear I never bet baseball.”

In the final pages, Kahn tries to rally by resorting to his old standby—fathers and sons and baseball. But by this time, it is much too late, for the book and Kahn's reputation.

While the book sold briskly and shot up the bestseller lists, the voyeuristic public eager for anything Rose-related at the time, it was not quite the financial success expected. Rose, apparently busy with other items in his crumbling life, reneged on his promised promotional efforts. Kahn reportedly only got about $100,000 out of it—far less than the half-a million he expected.

The book became a permanent stain on the conscious of Kahn. When he later heard Pete Rose’s confession in 2004 that he had indeed bet on baseball, Kahn told a reporter: “I wanted to reach for a barf bag.”

He also said, “Pete Rose is the Vietnam of baseball.” For those of you who missed the 1960s, I’m pretty sure he was not thinking “beautiful jungles and deltas and a friendly communist government” when he said it.

Overall, this book is worth reading for the first half to understand Rose’s life and for the last part to watch a once-respected journalist self-destruct.



Hustle: The Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose. 1990. Michael Sokolove.

Unlike the previous book, this one was written without Pete’s consent or cooperation. Two-thirds of the way through, Sokolove lets us know that he asked Pete for an interview, but was turned down because, “If I talk to you, the book will make more money and I’m not going to do it because I won’t get any of it.” This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. A good book certainly does not need the cooperation of the subject and, in fact, the author will not feel any allegiance to the subject and so he can print what he feels is the truth (see Kahn, Roger and Pete Rose: My Story).

The title says it all and this book reads like the hatchet job it was apparently designed to be. Sokolove does some good research, however he apparently framed his questions to draw out the desired conclusions. I’m not sure what Sokolove had against Rose, but he certainly appeared to harbor ill feelings for some reason. Virtually every story and anecdote from Rose’s life is told in a negative light—often where a negative light is neither indicated nor appropriate. There is also much collateral damage as he gives the same treatment to Rose’s mother, father and first manager, Fred Hutchinson.

While the book is well-written and entertaining and Sokolove is obviously a talented writer, in his zeal to crucify Rose, or perhaps make more money in book sales, he irritatingly makes some factual statements when a little hesitancy or waffling would be better served.

In reviewing Pete’s childhood and career, this book eventually becomes tiresome due to all the negativity. Sokolove seems to resent Rose’s popularity with both fans and writers. At one point he devotes several pages trying to prove that Rose was not a very good player—a complete revelation to a reader who actually watched most of Rose’s career. 

Granted, Rose was not in the class of Cobb, Ruth, Mays or Aaron, BUT there is the little matter of about 4,000 base hits—the vast majority of which were accumulated when he was a productive player, not just hanging on trying to break a record. Sokolove seems to overlook the fact that it is relatively difficult for a man to hit over .300 fifteen times and get more than 200 hits in a season ten times in major league baseball (if it’s easy for untalented guys to do it, then why don’t they?). And, yeah, Pete played with some pretty good players but, regardless, they did win all those division titles and pennants and Pete certainly played a role.

Just when the reader is ready to give up, however, the book picks up speed. It excels when discussing the aftermath of the 1989 gambling scandal. Sokolove gives a very good review to the charges, the players in the scandal and the investigators. 

He asks the very disturbing question of how a street-smart guy like Rose could be totally unaware (as he claimed) of the extensive involvement in cocaine and illegal steroids of his new friends that he hung out with at a Cincinnati Gold’s Gym—apparently obliqious to where their money came from as they flashed bling and fancy cars without any visible means of support, and as they openly discussed drug deals. And these thugs and criminals (all of whom were eventually convicted of drug-related charges) were allowed unfettered access to Pete’s Cincinnati Red clubhouse while he was manager.

Sokolove also brings up the question of why a guy who is a compulsive gambler and runs up large debts would refrain from gambling on the one thing that he knows best—baseball.

Sokolove details Pete’s extensive gambling phone calls (from his home and the Reds clubhouse) and losses to numerous illegal bookies in Cincinnati, Florida and New York. The mystery of why Rose was let go from Cincinnati in the late ‘70s is illuminated (in the Kahn book, Rose stated it was because of his impending divorce, in this book it is because Reds’ officials were worried about his well-known gambling troubles and the threat that mob-related men might break a leg or two).

Overall, this is a solid, entertaining book. The author had an admitted bias against Rose but this may be the best Pete Rose book to read if you want to know the closest approximation (which is all we will really get) to the truth involving his scandal. Read other books to find out about his childhood and baseball career.


My Prison Without Bars. 2003. Pete Rose and Rick Hill.

How can I be charitable? This one is just plain bad. Okay, actually, it reeks. And remember, that’s being charitable.

This book was supposed to be Pete’s Mea Culpa, his chance to finally come clean and, hopefully, put himself in good graces with the public and the commissioner of baseball. Unfortunately, it turns out to be an Everyone-else-is-culpa-but-mea. And nobody wanted that.

I’m not sure how much Pete really even contributed to this. The first few chapters seem like Pete just told Hill, “There’s already been a bunch of books written about me, just read them and summarize my early years.” Because that’s exactly what he did.

And apparently the Pete Rose book Hill preferred was Hustle. Because he lifted, word-for-word, several sentences and quotes from the Hustle book, without giving credit for the references. The sequence of events of Pete’s childhood are told almost exactly in the same order, with almost exactly the same anecdotes and stories, as Hustle. What are the chances that Pete, in his retelling of his childhood, would rely on the most negative book ever written about him? 

It soon becomes very annoying that Hill does a poor job in the attempt to give Pete his voice in narrating the story. Basically, he achieves Pete’s voice by inserting “sumbitch” on every other page. Every friend, ex-teammate, or anyone else discussed is invariably a sumbitch. I had never heard Pete talk this way in interviews and he never spoke this way in previous “autobiographies.” Maybe the sumbitch just picked up a temporary habit. Who knows?

And for those who enjoy fine literature, we are treated to such classic passages as: "I'd spent 30 years of my life inside of dugouts and locker rooms. I've smelled my share of rank farts . . ." Ernest Hemingway couldn't put it any better.

As far as the actual content, Pete admits within the first few pages that he doesn’t have any hobbies; except for gambling. That’s what he does, that’s what he enjoys. He admits that his gambling “got outta control” after he broke Cobb’s record, but then immediately explains how exciting and fun gambling is and proudly mentions that over the past 30 years he has hit more than a dozen pick-six tickets at racetracks (rather than coming off as a warning to others or even an apology, it sounds like an advertisement for the gambling industry).

Throughout the book Pete liberally throws in gambling terms such as “exactas,” “betting a dime,” “quinellas,” “the vigorish,” and explains that he used “a runner when betting more than a grand a game” and explains how the odds work at tracks. Once more he comes off sounding like a hardened veteran gambler telling of the workings of his racket rather than a guy trying to come clean and—maybe—change his lifestyle (which is what MLB wanted him to do).

The only change in the telling of Pete’s childhood—but this is a big one--is to insert several medical excuses that serve as foreshadowing and excuses for gambling. We’re informed that Pete probably had ADHD as a child and, oh by the way, it has since been proven (according to the authors) that ADHD is genetically linked to addictive gambling. Also we learn that Pete had Oppositional Defiance Syndrome, which made him always do the opposite of what good-intentioned people tried to counsel.

He continues this trend throughout the book. He lays on terms like Dopamine and explains that it is a chemical in the brain that is linked to gambling addiction and apparently Pete has high levels of it. No wonder he can’t control his gambling folks, he’s genetically predisposed and has high levels of chemicals so, you see, it’s not really his fault.

Pete prominently mentions several times that he and his father frequently went to the track to gamble with the fathers of local baseball players Don Zimmer and Ed Brinkman. So, the reader is left with the definite impression that, apparently, It’s okay to gamble because the fathers of other baseball players did it.

Pete blamed his gambling on (along with his genetic propensity and watching his father and other fathers) needing the competition after retiring from playing. He offers a lengthy explanation that gambling is actually competition—the bettor is competing against the bookie, “trying to kick the bookie’s ass.” While Pete admits that he used multiple bookies in Florida, New York, Cincinnati and Dayton, the bookmakers he used were “honest, working-class guys who had wives and families.” 

And Pete also mentions that using the bookies was okay because his brother-in-law was a cop and told him they had never prosecuted a case against a gambler who used bookies, only the bookies themselves. So, relax fans, the bookies were all good guys, and the cops don’t mind, so it’s allright.

And Pete divulges that when the baseball season started, he was totally focused on baseball—no betting. “I always lived by one hard and fast rule: “You don’t bet baseball.” But then, on page 123, he suddenly admits that he did bet on baseball; he could not remember the first time, but was sure it was sometime in 1986. Hmmm.

He also states that it was okay to bet baseball when he was a manager because “I never took an unfair advantage. I never bet more or less based on injuries or inside information.” So, it’s okay to bet on baseball as a manager as long as you bet stupidly.

The book is sprinkled with frequent references to a wide cross section of famous people who battled various addictions or had overly competitive personalities: Robert Downey, Jr., Douglas MacArthur, John Belushi, George Patton, Joseph Kennedy, John Kennedy, Elvis, Rock Hudson, Bill Clinton and Babe Ruth, among others. Speaking of Babe Ruth and his habit of visiting speakeasies, Rose lets us know that “the 1980s version of the speakeasy was the racetrack.” So, again, it’s okay because look at all these other guys who did bad or embarrassing things.

And so it goes, over and over throughout the book. It becomes very tedious and difficult to plow through. The reader gets the feeling he’s listening in on a conversation between an elementary school principal and a chronically tardy student. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

The book pays only cursory attention to Pete’s career and the few anecdotes included seem forced, out of place and are often wrong as to the correct players or circumstances (again, with some of the obvious errors, the reader is left to wonder what Pete actually contributed). But just when the reader is tempted to give it all up and throw the book away, a funny thing happens: it starts to be pretty good. The last 50 pages are somewhat entertaining as Pete details his stay in prison for income tax evasion (a prison term which is ridiculous when viewed with the charges) and his fight against major league baseball. Pete gives an entirely reasonable explanation for why he lied to Major League Baseball and fans: an admission would have meant an immediate ban from the game. The book sadly ends with a meeting with Commissioner Bud Selig and Pete’s hope of reinstatement, which we now know did not work out to Pete’s liking.

Overall, this is a very poor effort and probably set Pete’s defense back years and made people wonder how much more is he not telling. Apparently there was more.

Unfortunately for anyone who actually spent money on the thing, the enablers at Sports Illustrated guaranteed this book a certain early financial success by running it as an excerpt, complete with Pete gracing the cover. One wonders if the editors at SI had bothered to read it. And, if so, were the sumbitches able to keep a straight face.



Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. 2014. Kostya Kennedy.

I’ll have to confess. I really didn’t want to like this one. After all the previous books, I felt that this was one dead horse that didn’t need any more beating. But I was wrong. Apparently it needed to be beat one more time.

Kennedy is a good writer and it doesn’t take long for him to establish the fact that this is a very good book. Despite my previous beliefs, I found it hard to put down and by the end I had become a Kostya Kennedy fan. Damn.

While Kennedy covers Pete’s career summarily and tries to add a few new interviews, he cribs shamelessly from previous books. He includes pertinent facts and negatives and moves along brisky. Don’t read this one expecting to find any new info on Pete Rose the player, or Pete Rose the west side Cincinnati kid.

The book shines in the second half when it tries to dispassionately evaluate the evidence against Rose and examines his place in baseball history. Kennedy does a good job of both.

Kennedy explains exactly how much gambling Rose did, and when, and where the boundaries were (apparently there were few boundaries). He cuts through all of Rose’s denials and lies from the previous two decades.

The personal interview with John Dowd is very interesting. Two decades earlier, Roger Kahn, in his defense of Rose, had compared Dowd to tortured Miserables Inspector Javert in his obsession to bring down Rose, and Kennedy’s portrayal evokes the same sentiment. But this time we can clearly understand why.

There is a lengthy section on Pete’s brother and his son, Petey. We learn that Petey had a complicated relationship with his father, who he apparently still idolizes, and spent almost twenty years playing minor league baseball, mostly with independent teams with no hope of promotion. He also pounded steroids and bulked up to 240 pounds in an effort to hang on.

In the end, there does not appear to be much moralizing. Kennedy presents all sides and evidence in the Pete Rose story and leaves it up to the reader to draw conclusions. And that’s what a good author should do.

    *     *     *
So there you have it--a guide to Pete Rose literature. The Pete Rose question will continue to be debated among baseball fans for decades. Every fan will need to form his own opinion eventually. And it's good to have some info in your pocket before you jump in.

Monday, May 16, 2016

RIP Sammy Ellis


Former Reds pitcher Sammy Ellis passed away this weekend. He is another one of those guys who will always hold a special place in my heart because he helped me with one of my books. I spoke with him twice about Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 season. He was very helpful adding stories about his rookie year and his manager.

Ellis was a hotshot pitcher signed by the Reds off the campus of Mississippi State in 1961. He pitched for the Reds briefly in 1962 but was not effective and admittedly battled an intense competitive nature that at times caused him to lose both his temper and his focus on the mound.

After two solid seasons in triple-A San Diego, where he threw a no-hitter in 1962, Ellis made the Reds for good in spring training 1964. It was a memorable spring for Ellis as he also met his future wife in Florida that March. He was ecstatic about both making the Reds' roster and getting the pay raise that came with the major league assignment--to a whopping $7,000 a year.

The 1964 season would turn out to be a dramatic one for the Reds as popular manager Fred Hutchinson was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer before the season. Refusing to give in, Hutchinson gamely tried to finish out the season with his team.

"I was scared to death of Fred Hutchinson initially," Ellis told me. "I later found out that he was a very loveable guy, but he was intimidating. He was burly and almost a grumpy looking guy when you first met him. But I think everybody who ever played for him really liked him. He let his players play and you always knew where you stood with him. And no one wanted to win more than he did. He was one of those guys who commanded respect and could manage men without saying a lot."

By June, Ellis and fellow first-year man Bill McCool had formed one of the best righty-lefty bullpen combos in the majors. Over and over the youngsters displayed cold-blooded efficiency holding on to slim late-inning leads.

With Hutchinson visibly melting away due to the cancer, the team tried to stay focused on the field. But it wasn't easy. "Whereever we go as a team this year, Hutch is somehow there," Ellis was quoted in Sports Illustrated in September. "His name will come up over dinner. You're sitting there and somebody says, 'Hear anything about Hutch?' There is a kind of quiet that comes over everybody. It makes you put your hands under the table and clench your fists and wish somehow there was something you could do. Sure we want to win the pennant for ourselves . . . a ballplayer wants a World Series ring more than anything and we want to put a ring on Hutch's finger."

The Phillies appeared invincible most of the season, with the Reds lurking just closed enough to have a shot. After Hutchinson stepped down when he was finally no longer able to continue managing from the bench, the Reds rallied in late September. They swept a crucial series with the Phillies and launched a nine-game winning streak to give themselves a chance to win the pennant on the last day of the season.

Ellis was on the mound for the Reds in a tense situation in the third game of the Phillies series. Coming on the seventh inning of a tight game, he struck out the first man, then walked the bases loaded. "All of a sudden I couldn't find the strike zone," Ellis said. "With the bases loaded Johnny Callison is the batter and he was having an MVP year, a great year." Callison would end up with 31 home runs and 104 RBIs in 1964 and had won the All-Star game with a ninth-inning three-run walk off homer. "I look down to the bullpen and [interim manager] Sisler's got Nuxhall warming up. Sisler comes out to the mound. I'm expecting him to take me out. But he looks at me and says, 'Look, you've been doing the job all year, get this guy out.' And so I struck the son of a bitch out and then struck out the next guy too." On a full count to the dangerous Callison, Ellis threw probably the best pitch of his career, painting the outside corner to catch him looking. He then finished the last two innings for the save. It was that kind of year for Ellis. He would end the 1964 season with a 10-3 record and a 2.57 ERA.




In 1965 Ellis was converted to a starter, won 22 games, threw 15 complete games and made the All-Star team. Only 24 years old, his future appeared secure. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the peculiar malady of Ohio River Fever--a highly contagious, devastating arm ailment that afflicted virtually every Cincinnati pitcher of the era. Reds hurlers spent so much time in the whirlpool that they regularly led the league in barnacles. Ellis noted by mid-1966 that his arm was no longer the same. He struggled to a 12-19 season with an ERA of 5.29. It was the beginning of the end.

Although teams and management didn't seem to care or take note of pitch counts and total innings thrown in those days, a modern forensic specialist might point to the fact that young Ellis threw 263 innings in 1965 after throwing only 122 in 1964. There was also the period in late June in which he pitched an 11-inning complete game then, with three days rest, went 14 innings in Pittsburgh. In the second game, in which he gave up only four hits, he hit for himself leading off the top of the 13th inning, drew a walk and came around to score the first run of the game. Unfortunately, he stayed in to pitch and gave up a run in the bottom of the 13th. The Reds eventually lost 2-1 in 16.

Trying to hang on, realizing he had lost his once-impressive fastball, Ellis adopted an assortment of junk, including a knuckleball, but after struggling in 1967 he was traded to the Angels. He played one season each with the Angels and the White Sox, never regained his effectiveness, and then his major league career was over at the age of 28.

After his playing days, Ellis was a longtime major league pitching coach and later retired with his wife to Florida. He was 75 years old when he passed away.

I feel a certain kinship to the guys who are nice enough to allow me to interview them and I always feel bad when they pass away and are relegated to the one simple memorial paragraph in a news service release. These guys take a piece of baseball history with them when they go. They certainly deserve much more than one paragraph.




Sammy Ellis: So long and thanks.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Talking to Ernie Johnson, former Negro League All-Star




I had the opportunity and good fortune to interview former Negro League All-Star Ernie Johnson a few years ago. Ernie was one of those guys who was perhaps just a few years ahead of his time.

Johnson signed with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs in 1949 as a 20-year-old pitcher. His salary was $200 a month with about 3 bucks a day for meal money. He switched to the outfield in 1950 and became known as a powerful hitter. It was a time of change for the Negro Leagues--several teams had folded and the others were doing anything they could to stay afloat. "The league was dying by 1953," he said. "The Black community had accepted that with Jackie and those guys moving to organized baseball, the Negro League wasn't as important as before. Looking back, I didn't get too excited when Jackie signed with the Dodgers. I didn't have the knowledge of what might be coming or what that might mean for me."

Johnson's manager with the Monarchs was the inimitable Buck O'Neil. O'Neil would eventually become the foremost sweet-talking ambassador for baseball and the Negro Leagues and, after his performance in Ken Burns' Baseball in 1994, become a rock star. In 1953, O'Neil was simply the most respected man in the Negro League. In addition to possessing a great baseball mind, O'Neil knew how to manage men. "Buck O'Neil was a wonderful person," said Johnson. "If you played the game the way he thought, he was OK with you. If you didn't, he had a problem." O'Neil knew which players needed a carrot on a stick in front of their nose and which ones needed the stick turned around and used on their backsides. "He was a good teacher, but he didn't have any coaches." O'Neil had to do it all--manage the team on the field, organize the road trips and, if the bus broke down, round up cars to get the team to the next game. In spring training Dizzy Dismukes might work with the pitchers, but otherwise O'Neil was on his own.

 Buck O'Neil



As a youngster, Johnson quickly realized, along with the other players, that a new guy was there for one reason--to take someone else's job. "The older players didn''t help me. I had to pick up most things by myself." Once a new guy proved himself to be a solid member of the team, the other guys came around. "We really got to be good friends. We spent so much time together. I enjoyed the guys we were traveling with. If you didn't get along, you would have been gone. Buck would have gotten rid of any troublemakers. But we never really had any."


"We didn't spend much time in Kansas City, maybe a few weekends, then we'd be on the road most of the time. We played every day and in a different town every day. Often we traveled with the [Indianapolis] Clowns. I didn't think about anything but playing baseball. I didn't mind the conditions or the travel. It wasn't a bother to me. We didn't really sleep on the bus as much as people think. We almost always had hotel accommodations. I loved to play baseball. I was happy to get to play every day. I was able to see a lot of the country; parts I would have never seen. Parts most people never get to see. So we learned a lot about the country."






The 1953 Kansas City Monarchs. Johnson is second from the right. Far right is O'Neil. Ernie Banks is the sixth from the right



The Monarchs were unchallenged in those years. "We had the best team in the league," said Johnson. "I really believe we could have beaten any team in the minor leagues at the time." The Monarchs had winning streaks of 14 and 16 games and finished the 1953 season in front by 20 and a half games.


Johnson hit .296 with a league-leading 11 home runs for the Monarchs in 1953. His 22-year-old teammate, Ernie Banks, was third in the league with a .347 batting average. By mid-season, Banks, who had missed the previous two years while in the Army, was the talk of the league. "I thought Ernie Banks was a good ballplayer," said Johnson, "but I never visualized him becoming the great player he became. He was good, but I don't remember him being that much better than everyone else. Of course, I never idolized any of the guys I played with or against. I just thought I was as good as any of them." Johnson wasn't just being arrogant. Buck O'Neil once told a reporter he thought Johnson was the best hitter on that team.

"I played in the East-West game in 1953 in Comiskey Park. We didn't call it the All-Star game, we called it the East-West game. I grew up in Chicago and I remembered the game from growing up when it was a really big deal. So it was a great experience to get to play in one."

Played annually in Comiskey Park since 1933 (with a few exceptions in the early years when it was played elsewhere) the East-West game was the pinnacle of any Negro League season and had once been a major social event in Black America. With attendance swelling to more than 50,000 in the mid-40s, they outdrew the major league All-Star game several times. Players were chosen for the East-West game by fans voting in the nation's two largest Black newspapers, the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier. As stated by Buck O'Neil in I Was Right On Time: "Our game meant a lot more than a big-league game. Theirs was, and is, more or less an exhibition. But for black folks, the East-West Game was a matter of racial pride. Black people came from all over to Chicago every year." The Illinois Central Railroad would put on a special coach from New Orleans to Chicago to pick people up all through the south and bring them in for the game.

While the East-West game had once boasted talent as rich as any major league game, by 1953 most of the premier names had been sold to the majors and major league teams were beginning to bypass the Negro League altogether and sign their own young Black players. Johnson's 1953 East-West teammate Ernie Banks would be the last player to appear in a Negro League All-Star game and later play in a major league All-Star game. Attendance at the 1953 game was a mere 10,000. Banks made several flashy plays at short stop and Johnson had a big two-run single to help the West, managed by O'Neil, to a 5-1 victory.

All the players at the time were hoping to be the next player from the Negro Leagues signed to the majors. "When Ernie Banks was first spotted, the scout, Tom Gordon, came to Columbus [Georgia] to see me," said Johnson. "He saw Ernie Banks at short stop and forgot all about Ernie Johnson." Banks was signed by the Cubs and went straight to Wrigley Field in September, 1953.

Johnson was sold to the St. Louis Browns in 1954, but his opportunity in organized ball never gained traction. He was injured and released later in the year, but the Cubs signed him and he was sent to Thetford in the Provincial League where he hit .288. The next year he was sent to Macon, Georgia and landed in a difficult situation. Macon had never had an African-American player before. Johnson and teammate Sammy Drake were the pioneers that year. While the local Black community was supportive, Jim Crow was alive and well. The two endured taunts, on the road and at home, along with the indignities of having to stay in separate facilities and eat their meals on the bus. Competing in professional baseball is difficult enough without the added stress of breaking social ground in a place that doesn't want change. After a month in Macon, Johnson was sent out to Des Moines.

Johnson enjoyed several good years in Des Moines and Souix City, hitting .320, .300 and .308. Despite the numbers, he was never given a chance to move much higher. He ended his career in 1959 with Charleston.

Johnson allows no regrets for what might have been. As far as the segregation of the time, he said, "To me, that's just the way life was. We didn't know any better. It never occurred to me that things could be different. I never had any anger about things, that's just the way it had always been. And like I said, we just didn't know any better. But we lived a pretty good life as ballplayers; better than the average Black person. We were doing a job we enjoyed, we stayed in some of the better hotels that were owned by Blacks. I got to play baseball and got to travel all over this country and got paid to do it."

No regrets. Ernie Johnson, professional baseball player. Just a few years ahead of his time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Plans Unveiled For XLB--New Baseball League Based on Fun




Hey gang, this is your intrepid sports reporter Jacques Niffer back from Vegas where I managed to get an exclusive one on one with noted sports entertainment magnet Dense McMayhem about his new professional baseball league.

Since I was having a little trouble typing this morning, I had my secretary transcribe the whole recorded interview:

JN: Mr. McMayhem, thanks for sitting down with me today.

DM: ARE THERE ANY . . .  BASEBALL FANS OUT THERE!!!

JN: You don't have to scream, I'm sitting right here.

DM: Sorry, I'm just so excited. That's how we're going to start every game--you know, instead of having the umpire just mumble, "Play ball." Everything about this new league is going to be fresh and fun. There's been so much criticism from the younger generation about baseball being a tired game. So we've come up with a great idea. It's based on a previously very successful, just ahead of it's time, football venture: the XFL. We're going to call this the XLB.

JN: Sounds great. Do you have any players signed up yet?

DM: Only one so far, but fans will love him. He's a five-tool outfielder with an attitude who played with the Red Sox and Cubs and Dodgers and, hell, probably everybody else too, for one year. He just had his name legally changed to He Don't Like Me.

JN: So what's going to be different about the XLB?

DM: Everything. We threw out all the boring stuff everybody hates. Like uniforms. And batting gloves. We're going with one-piece leotards. That way there's nothing for batters to grab and scratch and adjust and waste time before getting in the batter's box. Anybody bunts, both benches get to dogpile them. And we're getting rid of the balk rule. Holding runners on base is boring. We're going to allow our first basement to REALLY hold runners on base; or off base--we call that the Herbie rule.

JN: What about talent, how good are the players going to be?

DM: Right, right. Where was I? Relief pitchers. When a pitcher is going bad, the manager will come out of the dugout and stand next to a giant gong. If the fans boo loud enough, he'll hit the gong and a new pitcher comes in. Also all relief pitchers will wear a mask, so nobody knows who they are and they'll warm up with both hands--that'll get rid of all that righty-lefty crap that everybody hates.

Pinch hitters can't enter the game until they've been tagged by the batter, but the pitcher and catcher can tackle the batter to keep him from tagging him.

And bat flips. All our players will be shown the video of Bert Campaneris in the 1972 playoffs. We'll show fans some damn bat flips, allright.

And we're doing away with those new pansy base running rules. If one of our guys is going into second or home plate on a close play and he just happens to have a hidden chain or is carrying a folding chair--well, hey, it's a man's game.

JN: Will fans get to see good baseball?

DM: We'll have all the stuff the new generation wants. We'll even incorporate the walk up music for batters--anybody plays Manilow or Bieber, it's an automatic two-strike count. Did I mention kids yet? You know with all the trouble about having players' kids on the field recently, we thought we would encourage that. I'm envisioning players' kids, wearing leather jackets and smoking, lined up down the foul lines, snapping their fingers. First high-and-tight pitch, they all rush in. Of course, they won't get hurt. Their switch blades will be made of rubber. We want a family atmosphere, you know.

JN: But what about talent?

DM: You want talent? Get a load of these. These are going to be our cheerleaders. They were all recruited right here in Vegas. You might even say they're professionals already, heh, heh. We're going to move the foul poles and have them put on top of the dugouts so our lovely cheerleaders can use them to, uh, perform.

JN: Are you sure these ladies are all natural? You know baseball fans are still a little wary of performance enhancers.

DM: Whaddaya trying to say?

JN: It's just that, I mean, I didn't know they could stand up like that on someone with a face that looks 60. I think they are fake?

DM: FAKE? Why you little . . . I'll show you fake.

JN: Hey, what are you doing . . . . OW, that hurts . . .  put me down, I'm afraid of heights . . . HEY . . . HELP . . . . (barely audible whimper).

DM: And that concludes our interview today folks. Remember, baseball is all about fun.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Talking to Nancy Finley, Charlie's niece and author of Finley Ball







Imagine you're a kid with a rich uncle who just bought a major league franchise. And then that uncle calls your dad and asks him to help run the team. And the dad accepts, brings you along and you get to witness baseball history from the backrooms and clubhouse for the next two decades as they build one of the most visible, and controversial, dynasties in baseball history. That's Nancy Finley's story. Now, after decades of watching the media misrepresent her uncle, wanting to set the record straight and make sure the contributions of her family are not lost to history, she has written a book.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Nancy Finley about the book, Finley Ball. Not just relying on her own memory, Nancy did voluminous research in old magazines and newspapers and is able to compare what was written with what she saw and heard first hand.

When Charlie Finley bought the Kansas City A's in December, 1960, the team had been a perennial joke whose owners regularly provided quality players to the Yankees in scandalously one-sided deals. That immediately changed. "Charlie never bought the team as an investment," Nancy says. "Charlie's dream had always been to own a sports team, preferably a baseball team. Once Charlie had the money, he bought his dream." Rather than being the cheapskate he came to be portrayed by the media, Finely actually subsidized the team until they started improving. He put about $500,000 of his own money into improvements for the stadium that he didn't even own.

After a very bad experience with Trader Frank Lane as his general manager (he was hired on the advice of a local sports editor), Charlie called on Nancy's father, Carl. Charlie and Carl were first cousins and had grown up together, as close as brothers. At the time, Carl was a high school principal in Dallas. Soon Carl was Charlie's right-hand man. "Dad really understood Charlie. He acted as a go-between for employees. Dad was more level-headed and helped run things from the background. He often gave Charlie advice about how to handle the media, when to keep his mouth shut. But Charlie had a hard time with that and it got him into trouble sometimes."

Together over the next decade, the two transformed the miserable A's into a powerhouse. And, although neither had any experience, they did it with home-grown talent--making some of the most astute draft picks and signings in baseball in the sixties. 

Nancy, a young girl at the time, had the run of the clubhouse and the players, especially the early guys like Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando, Dick Green, Bert Campaneris, Rick Monday and Blue Moon Odom, were like family.

Charlie Finley proved to be an innovator and an iconoclast among baseball owners. He was committed to bringing fun to the ball park. In 1964 he arranged for the Beatles to play in Kansas City at the stadium--a real coup because the group had not originally planned a stop there. "We were hoping MLB would adopt entertainment like the Super Bowl has now," says Nancy.

Nancy has the inside story to some of baseball's most famous controversies. Like the 1967 flight that resulted in the firing of manager Al Dark and the defection of Ken Harrelson, who called Finley "a menace to baseball." She got the real scoop from her teenage cousin, who was traveling with the team. Opposed to some media reports that downplayed the players' drinking and rowdiness, Nancy says her cousin had a front row seat to the shenanigans. "One of the stewardesses actually came up and sat down next to him and said, 'This is the only place that's safe,' because those guys were really getting out of hand with grabbing and groping and stuff."

She also has an extended explanation, including court documents and medical reports, of the Mike Andrews incident in the 1973 World Series. Nancy says this will surprise a lot of people because the media got it wrong. "I want the reader to decide for himself/herself after reading about what I know factually occurred."

She also has the real reason the team moved from Kansas City to Oakland. "Why we 'had to' leave Kansas City has never been written. I am so tired of reading how we wanted to leave KC. That is absolutely not how it happened. We never wanted to leave Kansas City. We loved it there. We were forced out." A poisoned-penned influential sports editor for the Kansas City Star, Ernie Mehl (who was jilted in his efforts at leading a group to buy the team in 1960), eventually swayed public opinion and soured the city for the Finleys. "Then the city council, some of whom were influenced by Mehl, voted to more than double the stadium lease, to over a million dollars, while the chiefs were playing for a dollar a year. We financially couldn't stay in Kansas City."

She also relates the story of the team mascot, a mule named Charlie O. "Charlie O was a gift from Missouri's governor at the beginning of 1965," she says. "The mule was named Charlie O as a joke by Charlie himself. Charlie O traveled with the team. Only the White Sox refused Charlie O admission. Charlie O drank at bars, rode escalators, had his own New York City hotel suite (a swanky room at the Americana Hotel complete with hay on the floor), was groomed in a barbershop, and was a witness for a bank note signing."



When Charlie O died in 1976, he was cremated and his remains were kept at the Oakland SPCA, since Charlie O had been a frequent attendee for SPCA charity events. A commemorative plaque on the wall was placed so fans could pay their respects. When the A's were rumored to be moving in 2008 and Nancy got wind that another group was planning on taking possession of Charlie O's remains, Nancy decided she needed to act. "I contacted the SPCA and provided confirmation of who I am. I was given Charlie O's remains." And she proudly keeps them today.



While Nancy doesn't deny her uncle's well-known personality traits, she does think he has not gotten a fair shake in books and histories. "Even recently in Sports Illustrated, I saw where Joe Posnanski wrote something and it was completely wrong. Everyone accepts some things that have been written before without actually checking the facts."

Along with lots of baseball, Nancy witnessed other bay area history up close as well during the tumultuous times of Patty Hearst, the Zodiac killer, Berkeley and the Black Panthers. She actually shared an elevator ride, alone, with Black Panther leader Huey Newton and two of his body guards as a young girl. She had taken a dog for a walk and was returning to their top-floor apartment in Oakland when the three stepped in. "They were very nice. They even asked what type of dog I had." Unknown to the girl, or anyone else, Newton was staying in their building incognito while on the lam from the FBI. "I recognized them when they showed them on TV later and told dad. He wasn't very happy." 

The book is scheduled for release next week, March 30. 



  Here's a link to the Amazon page for the book.



Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Last Ride of Baseball's Dalton Gang




According to history books, the outlaw Dalton Gang terrorized the old west for several years in the 1890s. Baseball had its own version of the Dalton Gang in the 1950s and early 1960s and--at least according to the oral legend passed down in dugouts, clubhouses and team buses--they were only slightly less terrorizing in their assault on bartenders, waitresses, maids, hotel rooms and team rules.

The gang's hideout was the clubhouse of the Philadelphia Phillies and it was made up of Dick (Turk) Farrell, Jim (The Bear) Owens and Jack (The Bird) Meyer. Others, such as Seth Morehead and Don Cardwell, occasionally rode with the gang as well. If none of them seem to be household names, there's a reason: most of their best work was done at night, away from the lights of the ball field.

The Daltons were all pitchers, big and rough, and most of them had talent; enough talent to keep them on a major league roster while they were driving management crazy. The name for the gang was handed down in 1959 by the Phillies pitching coach Tom Ferrick, the poor soul charged with corralling them long enough to make it to the mound.

They were a particularly fun-loving bunch who enjoyed nothing more than hoisting a few and taking liberties, with the rules of both the team and civilized society. They knew the best nightspots in every town in the National League and, for most of them, they knew what the joints looked like at closing time--not that they could always remember. A teammate later said of them, "They were homicidally notorious. They would go into bars and beat up people, they'd tear clubhouses apart with their practical jokes, they would do anything anytime." They were described in print as "pitchers who threw fast and lived fast and who were swept up in the excitement of being young and playing baseball for a living . . . outlaws who rode by night."

Since most postgame activities were sanitized at the time by journalists who wanted to maintain their place in line at the team's free press buffet, it's difficult to say with certainty whether the Dalton Gang had more fun, or was any more destructive, than Mickey-Whitey-Billy or any number of other famously hard-living players of the era, but two things seem certain: few others tried harder and few others created a comparable legend. The singular aspect that made them notorious was the fact that, to a man, they tended to become very disagreeable when drunk. They often ended their evenings trying to inflict physical injury on: a) strangers, b) each other or, c) any offending nearby inanimate object. When they drank, violence was close behind. And they drank often. They left a wide path of destruction in barrooms and hotels.

The most talented of the bunch, on the baseball field, was Dick Farrell. He was also the unofficial leader of the gang. He pitched exclusively in relief for the Phillies and went 10-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 1957 as a rookie and made the All-Star team in 1958. Farrell loved pranks and was noted for pouring buckets of ice on teammates on the toilet, setting off firecrackers in the clubhouse, and slipping an alligator (presumably a small one) into the whirlpool in spring training. Once he got into the official game balls before a game against the Braves and wrote unmentionable messages on them to rival pitcher Lew Burdette. During the game Burdette would look at a ball and then yell into the Phillies dugout, "Same to you, Farrell."



While he loved a good laugh, Farrell had a temper and could turn dark quickly. The 6-4, 225-pounder threw hard and was one of the most intimidating men in baseball. He would knock down a hitter for merely taking an excessively aggressive swing. He also firmly believed in the baseball version of an eye for an eye--call it Homer-abi's Code--plus one. When Joe Morgan, a future teammate in Houston, was routinely getting brushed back as part of the trial all good rookies had to go through at the time, Farrell watched a few weeks, then decided he had seen enough. He approached Morgan in the dugout: "We're gonna put a stop to that shit. Who do you want?" After that every time Morgan was brushed back Farrell would retaliate. "I''ll get one for you--and one for me. The pitcher's mine."

When opposing hitters objected to being targeted and glared out at him, Farrell would scream at them and dare them to come to the mound. Once after he plunked Willie Mays, he was verbally assaulted by the entire Giants dugout. He yelled back at them, "I'll take any one of you guys--or any two--right now." No one took him up on the offer.

Farrell claimed to always carry a .45 pistol and later famously shot rattlesnakes near the field when the Colt 45s/Astros trained in Arizona. Philadelphia first baseman Ed Bouchee later said that when they were teammates in the minors in Miami, he was in the shared bathroom between his and Farrell's hotel rooms when Farrell started shooting through the door. Between ice and bullets, teammates learned to never relax too much to relieve nature's calls when Farrell was around.

















Like Farrell, the other two main marauders, Meyer and Owens, were hard-throwing relievers. But after initially showing potential, neither improved, leaving observers to conclude that perhaps they couldn't cash the checks Farrell was writing at night and that the group's training regimen derailed their careers. Meyer came up to the Phillies first and led the National League in saves with 16 as a rookie in 1955. He added 97 strikeouts in 101 innings and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He never lived up to the promise of his rookie season, however, and ended his major league career after five years with a record of 24-34.


Jim Owens was 12-12 in his first full season in 1959 but went 11-28 over the next three years while his ERA climbed north of 5.00. Farrell frequently defended his roomie's talent, saying Owens only needed management to leave him alone and let him pitch and he would do well. Although Owens told the press that he was the kind of pitcher who could stay out drinking all night and then throw a shutout, it eventually became evident that he was only correct about the first part. A teammate later said, "He really could have been a good pitcher if he had stuck to the straight and narrow."

But straight and narrow wasn't their style.

Their reputation was soon known to players across the National League. John Callison, who joined the team in a trade in December, 1959, later said that when the trade was announced he was cautioned by a veteran player, "You're a kid with a promising future. Don't get hooked up with that Dalton Gang."

"Everybody in baseball knew about the Dalton Gang," Callison explained. "Other teams would come into the city and ask me where the Dalton Gang was headed after the game. . . There was a little bar near Connie Mack Stadium. The Dalton Gang used to sneak out or send somebody out to buy brews for them during the game."

Baseball, by nature of its slower pace and large amount of down time during the six month season, lends itself to storytelling more than other sports; and for years, former teammates of the Dalton Gang enjoyed propagating their tales. As they say, "History became legend. Legend became myth." What is fact and what is fiction is hard to tell at this stage.

They were said to have broken every mirror in a plush San Francisco bar one night and to have damaged more than one hotel room with fire.

An unnamed gang member, referred to in print years later only as a "boozed up flame thrower," broke the wrist of one of the Phillie's better hitters during an alcohol-fueled disagreement.

A fringe gang member once disrobed a waitress (against her will) in a Clearwater, Florida parking lot during spring training. The Phillies reportedly paid $250 for a new dress and the whole deal was forgotten (by most).

After a game in Milwaukee, the gang was frolicking in a bar called Fazio's when Farrell picked up the juke box and began dancing with it. After the owner told him to put it down or he'd called the cops, Farrell put it down, went to the washroom and ripped all the mirrors and towel holders off the bathroom walls. The Phillies got a bill for that one as well.

In order to recoup some of the team's money being paid out for the destruction wrought by the gang, as well as in an attempt to slow them down, the team began slapping them with fines.

After a couple of Daltons busted up a bartender, general manager Quinn fined them for "being unsober."

In 1959 Farrell had another fight with a barroom mirror in Milwaukee after a loss. He later said, "I looked in the mirror and didn't like what I saw so I threw a punch." He was fined $250 for "Conduct unbecoming a major league ballplayer."

Future Phillies general manager Paul Owens was a minor league manager for the Phillies during the Dalton's rule and roomed with future Phillies manager Frank Lucchessi, also a minor league manager at the time, during spring camp. He later told a reporter, "We'd go to bed about midnight. Frank was a sound sleeper. I thought I was, but in the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of Christmas Carols. . . I get up and go down the hall . . .There are Turk Farrell, Jim Owens and a young catcher from Syracuse. They're singing to this guy they have hung up by the back of his jacket on a wall hook. The poor guy's feet were off the ground. Turns out he's the night clerk who came upstairs to quiet them down." Farrell was fined $500 and Owens $200 and sent the catcher was sent home.

When fines didn't work, the team tried positive reinforcement. Owens' conduct was explicitly discussed prior to his 1960 contract and he was promised a $500 bonus if he could stay out of trouble. The lure of extra cash provided great incentive for Owens to rehabilitate his behavior--for about a week; he didn't make it through spring training. He got into a barroom brawl in Florida, lost his $500 bonus and was hit with an extra $100 fine.


The gang burned through managers the way they went through bars--rapidly and with much collateral damage. The Phillies were a bad team, having gradually shed most of their stars from the Whiz Kids days and were in the process of sinking to the bottom of the National League. Manager Mayo Smith, a guy who had trouble controlling his players everywhere (see McLain, Denny) was no match for the gang. Neither was Eddie Sawyer, who resigned after an opening day loss in 1960, leaving with this famous statement: "I'm 49 years old and want to live to be 50."

When the team hired tough guy Gene Mauch to replace Sawyer, it appeared that a new sheriff was in town and Philadelphia might not be big enough for all of them. Mauch initially told reporters he would be able to deal with the gang, whose arms were sorely needed by the talent-poor Phils: "You have to find 'em, fine 'em, and play 'em." But Mauch ultimately proved to have no more luck keeping the Dalton Gang focused than he would later have with Dick Allen.

Mauch initially tried to use intellectual strategy: he split up the roomies Farrell and Owens and paired them with assistant coaches Ken Slivestri and Peanuts Lowrey. It didn't work. Farrell later said, "Silvestri would go to bed at ten o'clock. I'd order a few beers and keep the TV set on until four. Owens would do the same thing with Lowrey. We kept this up for ten nights." After that the coaches went to Mauch and begged him to make a change. "I can't room with this guy, Gene," Silvestri said. "He never sleeps."

By the criteria of any easily-googled checklist the guys obviously had a serious problem. But it would be decades before the baseball establishment and sportswriters--led by the courageous efforts of guys like Ryne Duren, Don Newcombe and Sam McDowell--would be ready to confront alcohol abuse in its ranks with anything other than a wink and a euphemism.

The beginning of the end for the Dalton Gang's reign of terror came in early June, 1960. It started in a nightspot in Pittsburgh, just up the street from the Phillies' hotel. After much lubrication, Meyer became involved in a heated shouting match with a local sports writer, reportedly over a trivial matter involving horse racing. When Meyer appeared to be losing control, he was soothed by Farrell and other Daltons and led back to his hotel room and put to bed.

As the night was still relatively young, Farrell quickly had a change of heart and decided it would be great fun to pour ice water on Meyer. Meyer came up screaming and fighting. After once more being subdued, he reportedly received a phone call that sent him over the edge. He trashed the room, ripping down blinds and destroying a radio, then fought uncontrollably with several teammates who tried to prevent further carnage.

In the process of all the commotion, Meyer hurt his back. And in the next few days it became apparent that the back injury was severe. Meyer was placed on the disabled list and sent back to Philadelphia by Mauch. Phillie general manager John Quinn then fined Meyer $1,200--an enormous amount for the time. It was said to be the largest fine, in proportion to salary, in baseball history (9 % of Meyer's $14,000 salary).

When Meyer learned the amount of the fine, he was incensed, "What do they think I am, a millionaire?" he asked reporters. "I've got four kids to support." He threatened to quit baseball, then demanded to be traded. Mauch told reporters, "Meyer is a problem. Do you think any manager wants to take a problem off my hands?"

After the damaged was cleaned, fines handed out, and the usual suspects rounded up, all was back to business as usual. And then the gang was immortalized in an article by Walter Bingham in the June 13, 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated. The article, titled, "The Dalton Gang Rides Again," began "When the game is over, a trio of fun-loving Philadelpia Phillies prowl the night in search of adventure." Bingham called the boys "throwbacks to the raucous old days," and "wild-living, fun'loving, hell-raising players."

"Whenever one of their nocturnal escapades lands them in trouble and makes the papers, someone around the National League invariably says, 'I see where the Dalton Boys were out riding again last night." The article accused the gang of  "hard-drinking, frequent fighting, late hours and casual relationships." This kind of behavior from baseball players? Written about in a national magazine? Scandalous!

The article, exceedingly innocent by modern standards, was met with much indignation and threats of reprisals from inside the baseball establishment--not for the offenses of the guilty parties, understand, but because the writer and the magazine had broken the Wall of Silence of the clubhouse. At the time, the general public was only supposed to learn of baseball player's conduct between the lines and the only off-field activities deemed appropriate for print usually involved photo ops with small children in hospitals.

Soon after the SI issue hit the racks, the very pro-establishment Sporting News stated, "The bid for sensationalism in journalism has entered the field of sports via the weekly magazines. Sports Illustrated came along with an article on the 'Dalton Gang' of the Phillies in which three players were branded as playboys constantly violating training rules. . . .Does that sort of vilification belong in sports?"

This incident represents an important watershed moment in the history of sports journalism. Sports Illustrated had printed an excerpt of Jim Brosnan's The Long Season that spring. When the complete book was released in July it was roundly denounced for telling the public that ballplayers occasionally bent an elbow and looked at women (things ordinary people were not supposed to know). Unfortunately for Commissioner Frick and the poobahs of the game who sought to protect the innocent public from scandalous information about baseball heroes, readers tended to like this sort of stuff. Along with a wave of new-breed sportswriters who came to be known as "the Chipmunks," Brosnan's book and this article helped usher in a new era of sports journalism--no longer would fans be content with sports stars who merely sipped malts, politely signed autographs for little kids and frequently said, "Gee, whiz, fellas, we love this game so much we would play it for nothing." Fans wanted more.They wanted the truth. Who knew?


Farrell, Owens and Meyer filed separate lawsuits against SI's parent company, Time, Inc., because of the article. Meyer's suit asked for damages of $5,000 or more for "defamatory statements" that "hurt him as a salesman in the off season, damaged his employment and jeopardized the possibility of his earning a living." In Ball Four, Owens, by 1969 a Houston pitching coach, tells Jim Bouton about the lawsuit: "We'd have gotten a helluva lot more money if one of the guys hadn't attacked a maid a week before the trial."


The Dalton Gang was never quite the same after the Pittsburgh affair. Considering the amount of negative press and the amount of damage, along with the fact that the team was losing miserably, it was inevitable that the gang would be broken up. One by one, they were let go. Meyer missed the rest of the 1960 season with the back injury. He pitched in one game in 1961 before leaving baseball for good. Farrell was traded to the Dodgers in May, 1961 and Owens to the Reds in November, 1962.

Expansion teams are often left with the unpleasant task of taking on other team's problems in order to field a team of major leaguers. And so it was that in 1964 Owens and Farrell were reunited in Houston. Together again, they both enjoyed several productive seasons on the mound. Although they were a little older, perhaps wiser, and Houston general manager Paul Richards (a no-nonsense tough guy in anybody's book) warned them about their behavior, they did not change their lifestyle too much; they only used more discretion.

The pair left a lasting impression on young Joe Morgan. He later wrote: "Those desperadoes were genuinely, dangerously crazy." Morgan noticed that they carried nice briefcases through airports on road trips, looking very much like serious businessmen. He soon discovered that their "business" included flasks of booze, which they liberally delved into--getting around a regulation prohibiting alcohol on flights. And while their exploits were not as heralded as in the Philly days, they still had their moments, such as the time a lubricated Owens attacked a writer on the team bus after an unflattering article about Farrell. Owens held the writer by his neck with his feet dangling and only the intervention of Farrell ("Let him go, Jim, he's not worth it") and a couple of teammates saved the red-faced reporter from serious injury.


Farrell was converted to a starter for a time and became one of Houston's best pitchers during their early years, becoming a fan and media favorite due to his openness and quick wit. He was a hit on the team's winter caravan and sold season tickets in the off-season. He was not above pulling the occasional hidden ball trick or loading one up in a key situation. Once after Stan Musial singled sharply to right field on a particularly nasty two-strike spitter that broke a foot at the plate, Farrell tipped his cap toward first and said, "You, sir, have to be the greatest hitter I've ever seen to have hit that ball with as much as I loaded on it." Stan the Man smiled and replied, "I thought it looked a little wet coming up there."

 Also as he aged, Farrell realized that his arm wasn't what it had been and he only wanted to pitch at night, not trusting his fastball in the light of day anymore, knowing that the poor vision in the gloomy lights of old Colt Stadium added five years to his heater. Once his regular turn in the rotation fell on a day game. After arguing with a coach to no avail, the next day Farrell didn't show up. He walked into the clubhouse after the game with an innocent expression on his face and told everyone he thought the game started at night. After much yelling by the coaches and righteous indignation by Farrell for having his honesty questioned, he started the next night and won. He made the All-Star team in 1962, 1964 and 1965. He played for the Colts from 1962 to 1967, before finishing with an encore in Philadelphia from 1967-69.

While Owens later tried to downplay the reputation of their old days, Farrell reveled in it. He once stopped at the real Dalton Gang Hideout and Museum in Meade, Kansas and wrote back to a sportswriter friend, "Stopped off at the old hideout . . . brought back memories. Takes a while to raise a new gang, but will start soon."

Once when asked by a young Houston reporter if he had been a member of the infamous Dalton Gang when he had been in Philadelphia, Farrell replied with pride, "I wasn't just a member. I was the leader."

The years were not kind to most of the Dalton Gang. Meyer died of a heart attack in 1967 at the age of 35. Farrell, the most talented of the gang, lasted the longest in baseball. He had a 14-year major league career and ended with a lifetime record of 106-111. He moved to Great Britain where he worked on an oil rig off the coast but died in a car accident in 1977. He was only 43.

Owens became the Astros pitching coach after his playing days were finished and helped forge a staff that included Mike Cuellar, Larry Dierker and Don Wilson. He still lives in Texas.

Even though they were together only a short time, the Dalton Gang remains part of baseball lore; a reminder of a much different era.