added 1/18/2010 by Cot Deal
AstrosDaily is proud to present more baseball tales from former Colt .45s and Astros coach Cot Deal.
The Importance Of Taking Notes
It's tough enough for a young baseball player to come right out of college and compete in the profession, but occasionally one starts in the high minor leagues, and every once in a while one is a "phenom", in the profession's jargon, and goes straight to the big Leagues.
I remember a case that happened years ago that still brings laughs when told around hot stove sessions. I shall call the protagonist Joe and withhold his real name so he won't be made fun of if anyone who knows him reads this.
He was considered mature enough, and talented enough, to start in the AAA International League. Joe was a pitcher.
Usually a young pitcher is used in relief situations to psychologically condition him before his first starting assignment but, in this case, the powers that be decided to have him be the starting pitcher in his first appearance.
In the pre-game meeting the manager discussed how to pitch each of the opposing hitters, and how to set the defense. Joe had learned in college that the best way to remember things was to take notes, which he did in detail. After the meeting, and before time for him to warm up, he sat in his locker and studied his notes.
Finally it was game time - his professional debut. Joe was nervous, but got through the first two innings with relative ease. In the third inning, however, a couple of hits and a couple of bases on balls got him in deep trouble.
Now Joe had every reason to be nervous. The opposing hitter was the league leader. At this point he was oblivious to anyone else, or anything else in the world. He was totally uninhibited. He placed an index finger on a nostril and cleared the other gustily, then reversed the process. He tugged and adjusted the groin's protective cup. He took his cap off and wiped his brow with a red bandanna. Pathos was manifest. Opposing players savored it.
His manager called time and strolled slowly toward the mound. He wanted to relax Joe with some time and maybe a word of encouragement with a semblance of nonchalance, and with stoic managerial demeanor at the same time, but he was unable to stifle laughter as he looked to the mound.
Joe, unaware that laughter en masse was coming from both dugouts and the people in the grandstand, had pulled a pad from his hip pocket and was tunnel-visioned into his notes.
There have been many stories about John Leonard "Pepper" Martin, often called "The Wild Horse of the Osage." He was a member of the old St.Louis Cardinal "Gas House Gang," and he and his alter ego, Dizzy Dean, pulled off some zany antics.
Pepper and I, both being from Oklahoma, became good friends through various winter activities. In 1958, we became on-field rivals. He was managing Miami of the International League and I was managing Rochester in the same league. Playing against his club was always added challenge, and amusement, because of the friendship - and not knowing what sort of mischief this fun loving scamp might attempt.
One afternoon in Rochester our clubhouse attendant came to my office and said, "Cot, there's a guy out here who wants to see you; he says Pepper Martin sent him."
Intuitively I smelled Osage pepper immediately, but the John Leonard side was a very caring person, and I didn't want to offend anyone. After all, I was curious too.
"Send him in."
A big, strapping young man, apparently in his early twenties, introduced himself.
"Mr. Martin told me to come see you," he drawled.
I saw right away he was from someplace far from upstate New York. As we chatted he told me he had just gotten out of the army. He was from West Virginia originally, and quite obviously with little formal education. He had played baseball in the army, he told me, and wanted to get started in professional ball.
"What position do you play?" I asked.
I got him a uniform, and told our clubhouse attendant to usher him out to the playing field when he was ready. I went on to the field to start our pre-game workout.
His arrival onto the field was dramatic. He didn't even know how to put the uniform on. I looked to our dugout and saw our trainer, clubhouse attendant, and a group of our players laughing as they watched. I looked to the visitors' dugout - and there sat my Oklahoma friend, legs crossed, arms folded, and a wide smirk of undeniable amusement.
"OK," I said, as I handed him a bat and fought to stifle laughter myself, "let's see you hit a few."
It was actually pitiful. This poor fellow had difficulty making contact with the easiest of throws - like one of us would throw to his eight-year-old - boy or girl. After a few of those futile swings I sent him to first base. It was just as bad there.
I glanced at Pepper. He was almost convulsive. Suddenly I realized there might be risk involved in all this fun and games. If he got hit in the nose - or eye - or, then I wondered about the groin area protective device we call a cup. I stopped hitting the ground balls, walked out toward the young man and asked, "Do you have a cup on?"
"Aw-w, no - I reckon I don't need one - I ain't done no breedin' lately nohow."
There was howling from all within earshot. Even he joined in. I think he rather enjoyed being the center of attention. Furthermore, he would be able to tell his grandchildren, "I had a tryout with the Rochester Red Wings."
Boy I've done some dumb things in my life - and maybe you have too - but I can challenge almost anyone. This little story is but one single area of dumbnitude.
When I was sixteen years old, I spent a week with the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. Forbes Field was the Pirate home. Now I ask your forbearance, but to do my stupidity justice I'll have to do some name-dropping for the rest of this exposition. With apologies to many outstanding baseball men I must humbly mention Hall of Famers only, and I might even miss some of them, as you will sense. My story begins with the Pirates.
Pie Traynor was the manager. He was a wonderfully warm man, and we became good friends immediately. While I was there, I signed a contract with them to begin my professional career the following spring. Pie Traynor, one of the greatest third basemen of all time, gave me the last glove he had used as a player. Here this dumb story sets in.
When I got back to my home in Oklahoma, I went out one afternoon with some of my high school buddies to practice. I took the glove with me. Is that dumb or not? I should have locked it up someplace.
But, on with the story. When it came my turn to hit, I tossed the glove down and grabbed a bat. When I finished my turn at bat, I laid the bat down, and, you guessed it - the glove was gone.
One of the coaches on that Pirate team was the immortal Honus Wagner. The Waner brothers, Lloyd and Paul, were there. They were from Oklahoma too which helped make my week more pleasurable. They gave me an autographed baseball, and it is, of course, a collector's prize, but after a few years of fading ink I retraced the Honus Wagner autograph. Dumb. I have since put a protective coating on it but that one autograph has lost its value to the expert.
The next year, 1940, Frankie Frisch was the Pirate manager. I didn't think of getting his autograph.
After three seasons in the service during World War Two, I resumed my baseball career at Toronto in the International League. The Boston Red Sox purchased my contract in September of 1947 and I finished that season with them. Joe Cronin was the manager. Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr were on that team. No autographs. The next year Joe McCarthy was the manager. Again, no autograph - not even a team ball from either year.
In 1949, I was traded to the Saint Louis Cardinals. I was in the Cardinal organization eleven years with such baseball dignitaries as Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Joe Medwick, Dizzy Dean - but I got only a few autographed balls. During that time my friendship was renewed with Paul Waner when I was manager of the Cardinals' AAA team at Rochester, New York. He was the Cardinal minor league hitting coach. Again ...
And so it goes. Through the years, there was contact with Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Carl Hubbell - another Oklahoma friend - and I'm sure I've missed some. I coached at Cincinnati later. Pete Rose worked in the clubhouse shining shoes and doing laundry. We developed a lasting friendship.
Frank Robinson was on that team. I did have enough sense to get a team ball. Later I coached for the New York Yankees, and you'll recall the Hall of Famers from that club - Mantle, Berra, Ford, and with Joe Dimaggio in uniform in spring training. Again, I got a team ball, but not Dimaggio's. Then, later at Detroit, I was with Kaline and Kell. Yes, a team ball only.
Patience, patience. I'm getting to the real reason for writing this.
In 1989, I was the minor league hitting and outfield coach for the San Francisco Giants. In spring training, I spent three weeks with the major league Giants before getting the minor leaguers started. At the end of each day's workout, the staff members would sit around and talk about what had happened, what would be done the next day, whatever anyone wanted to discuss, then to lighter things like fishing and golf.
After a slight lull during one of the golf sessions, Willie Mays turned to me.
"Man, you ain't said nothin' - how do you shoot?"
"Willie, I haven't played for thirty years. I traded my clubs to a pal of mine at home for a painting, and haven't picked up a club since."
"Say Hey - you oughta be playin', man."
"Well, I might one of these days - maybe when I retire."
That was my last day with the big leaguers. It was time to start spending full time with the young ones. The next day, Bob Kennedy, head of player development, came to me on the field.
"I brought you something from the big league camp," he said with a grin.
"Oh," I said, wondering what in the world it might be.
"Slip up to the clubhouse," he suggested, "and take a look. Willie Mays sent you something."
I hustled in - and did look. There by my locker was a full set of golf clubs in a beautiful leather bag.
I could hardly wait to see Willie.
"I'll be going back home in a day or two," he said. "I'll get me another set," then paused and added, "You gotta start playin', man."
And I didn't have him autograph the bag.
I have a few autographed balls, but only a fraction of what I should have ... and I could have had a personally autographed leather golf bag if I'd had any sense. Oh, well ...
Cot Deal coached the Colt .45s from 1962-1964 and coached the Astros from 1983-1985. He also managed Houston farm teams in Oklahoma City during 1968 and 1969 as part of a career in baseball that spanned five decades, including as a major league player with the Cardinals and Red Sox.
The above stories are used by permission from the book Cot In The Act (c) 1992 by Cot Deal. All rights reserved.