I was to be discharged from the Army on September 28, 1952. In early September of that year I received a letter from Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey, who, always ahead of the curve in scouting talent, wanted to take a look at the young players from the Pirates farm system that were about to be discharged from service. He asked if I could make it to Ebbets Field when the Pirates would be playing the Dodgers.
Could I? Hell, I'd walk all the way to Brooklyn if I had to! With two other players on the 60th Regiment team, we drove to Ebbets Field early enough to await the arrival of the Pirates’ team bus.
When it arrived, I introduced myself to Bob Rice, the Pirates’ traveling secretary, and showed him Mr. Rickey's letter. He was unaware of the workout and took me to the clubhouse to meet manager Billy Meyer. Surprisingly, Billy Meyer didn't know anything about the workout either, but told “Doc” Jorgensen, the team trainer, to get me a uniform. I put on a major league uniform and stepped onto a major league field for the first time that day in September 1952 at Ebbets Field.
The only players on the '52 Pirates I had played with in the minors were Frank Thomas, Cal Hogue, and Dick Smith. Before batting practice I got into a “pepper game” and figured one of the coaches would inform me when they wanted me to work out. I heard nothing. As batting practice began I headed out to the outfield to shag fly balls. When the pitchers began to do their running, I thought, “I might as well join them.”
When batting practice ended, I anxiously wondered when someone would take a look at my pitching skills. I went back to the dugout when I noticed the starting pitchers were beginning their warm ups. Having played six years in the minor leagues, I knew I wasn’t going to do any throwing for anyone, so I headed back to the visiting team clubhouse.
The clubhouse radio was on and Red Barber and Vince Scully, who were doing the Dodger broadcast, went over the starting lineups. I began to undress and noticed the only player remaining in the clubhouse was pitcher Murry Dickson (1916-1989), who was then in the twelfth year of a twenty-year major league career. He had tasted champagne with the St. Louis Cardinal Championship teams in the 1940s and won 20 games in 1951 on a Pirates’ team that won only 64 games. He was the only truly qualified major league pitcher on the 1952 Pirates’ team that lost a record 112 games. I had been a huge Cardinal fan as a kid, and to be in the same clubhouse with Murry Dickson was a treasured moment.
Dickson was listening to the broadcast in the fist inning, with two out and Frank Thomas at bat for the Pirates. Thomas hit a low line drive to center field, which Frank thought Duke Snider had caught on the fly, but actually was trapped by Snider. I still recall the description of the play by Red Barber: “Thomas’ line drive was trapped by Snider in center field and he relays it quickly to Jackie Robinson at second base.” Excitedly, Barber continued, “Now Thomas is heading into center field and Robinson is chasing him, and tags him for the final out in shallow center field.”
Dickson, who had seen a lot of ugly baseball that season, said “They ought to send some of these guys so far into the minor leagues that even 'The Sporting News' couldn't reach them.”
(Image from Gary Bedingfield's website, Baseball in Wartime http://www.baseballinwartime.com)