January 17, 2012

An Interview With Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer began following baseball in 1931. He saw Babe Ruth hit home runs. He wrote for Sports Illustrated when it debuted in the mid-1950s. And he has written many baseball books, most notably biographies of both Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel. (N.B.: He also said some extremely nice things about my book on the 1918 Red Sox.)

Graham Womack of Baseball Past And Present interviewed Creamer recently. And the entire interview is a must-read. (Thanks to Dave Pinto of Baseball Musings for the tip).

Some snips:
What still excites you about baseball?

That's easy – the wonder of "What happens next?" When I'm watching a game between teams I'm interested in, sometimes that wonder — and the fulfillment of it, as in the sixth game of the 2011 World Series — can be excruciatingly exciting, and its fulfillment as you watch and wait can be almost literally incredible. ... I have occasionally quoted my long-ago family doctor who once said to me, "Baseball is a game of limitless dramatic possibility." We've come close to the limit — Bobby Thomson's home run 60 years ago, the Cardinals last fall — but we haven't reached it yet.

Who's the greatest baseball player you covered?

Willie Mays. Period.

If steroids had been a part of the game when Stengel and Ruth were players, do you think they would have used?

Sure. Yes. Absolutely. Hell, for decades before the big scandal about steroids in baseball, clubhouses used to have plates or dishes filled with little candy-like pills players gulped or chewed on routinely. My mind is gone – I forget what they were called ... Uppers? Bennies? I can't recall. But that was standard. Athletes are always looking for an edge and that was a way to get them fired up. I have never been as upset by steroid use as the moralistic holier-than-thou baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame. What a bunch of self-important phonies!

I mean, you'd think all an ordinary player would have to do is take steroids to hit 70 home runs or bat .350. But I think McGwire was telling the truth — he took steroids to hold back distress, to make him physically able to play the game. Steroids don't make a player good. Think of the hundreds, even thousands of players who have been in and out of the major leagues and who may have dabbled in steroids and think how few have hit 50, let alone 60 or 70 homers. Sure, every two-bit hitter in the lineup seems able to drive the ball over the outfield fences, but that has as much to do with the dimensions of the fields and the dimensions of the players, even without steroids. ...


FenFan said...

I have never been as upset by steroid use as the moralistic holier-than-thou baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame. What a bunch of self-important phonies!

This whole article should be must-read for these voters.

FenFan said...

In my mind, the ownership and the writers condoned the practice when it made them money selling tickets and papers. Yet it's the players whose legacy is punished while Selig gets another contract extension and Bill Madden and Murray Chass remains voting members of the BBWAA (well, okay, not the latter).

Zenslinger said...

The whole article is a must read period! You don't have to be a baseball historian or egghead to appreciate it.

And before the howling begins about Crawford's wrist injury, let me just say that he will come back and be the player he was. He has to. Players like that don't just disappear.

Dr. Jeff said...

Allan did you try to look up some of the games he mentions in the interview?

laura k said...

Hooray for Robert Creamer, Allan's first book blurb-er. I look forward to reading this story!

allan said...

Allan did you try to look up some of the games he mentions in the interview?

No, but let's see ...

My father and I were in the moderate crowd at the Polo Grounds in May 1951 when Willie played his first game for the Giants.

Monday, May 28, 1951.
Attendance: 23,101.

Willie had broken in a few days earlier in Philadelphia where he went 0 for 12 in three games.


He was batting third


a rookie who had been batting something like .477 in the minors.

Not something like, but exactly . 477. In 35 games for Minneapolis.

The top of the first took some of the fun out of the game right away. Warren Spahn was pitching for the Boston Braves and in the top of the first Bob Elliott hit a three-run homer for Boston

It was a two-run shot. Willard Marshall had an RBI triple before the HR. The inning went: K/E3, 3B, K, HR, 6-3, 1B, F7. Minor and understandable mistake.

Spahn set the first two Giants down in order and here came Willie

Actually, a walk and a 3-6-3 DP.

I forget what the count went to — a ball and a strike, something like that.

No idea.

Spahn threw the next pitch and Willie hit it on a line high and deep to left center field. I cannot recall if it hit the wooden fa├žade high in left field or went over the roof and out of the park. All I remember is the electric excitement that shot through the park at the sound and sight of our precious rookie in his first at-bat in New York hitting a tremendous home run off the great Spahn. “He’s real!” was the feeling. “He’s real!”

Mays homered.

Never mind that Spahn closed him down and the rest of the Giants the rest of the night.

It was the Giants' only run. They lost 4-1, though Spahn did allow 7 hits and 5 walks.

Never mind that Willie went another 13 times at bat before getting another hit

He went 0-3 with a BB that night after the HR. 0-3 with 2 BB the next game. Then 0-2 with a BB. Then 0-5. Then 2-4 - he was dropped to the 8th spot - but we have no play by play. So at least 0-13 and maybe exactly that, if he hit safely in his first AB in the 2-4 game.

allan said...

Mays was involved in 59 or 60 DPs while playing in the outfield, so if someone wants to find the ones Creamer is talking about, be my guest!!

Jere said...

Mays beginning of career:

dong (went over roof according to 2 sources)

So that second hit had to be in his first at bat in the 2 for 4 game. (It would have been a single--his 2-run triple in that game came in the 7th according to next day's story.)

Oddly, a few places have botched the stat about the start of his career, saying he was 1-25 or .040. That adds the 0 for 12 with the 0 for 13 and makes 25 at bats, but they forget to add the at bat with the homer. So while he was 1 for 25, his low point was actually 1 for 26. Both the 2011 book "Willie Mays" and the SABR Bio Project say 1 for 25. The Baseball Page.com also notes the 0 for 13, the dong, and the 0 for 12, and incorrectly calls that an .040 average. And it's not like I'm using a mid-game average. He was 1 for 26 or .038 at the end of the game before the 2 for 4 day.

Jere said...

The Dimaggio double play:

May 4, 1948. He was close but a little off. It was 6-1 Yanks. And Joe D. threw to first, it was not unassisted. Cliff Fannin was the pinch-runner on first, running for Moss who had walked, and Joe Schultz hit the ball, pinch-hitting for Widmar, the pitcher. I got this from the box score, so I could be wrong that this is the play he meant, but this has to be it. Makes more sense that it was just the guy on first as opposed to bases loaded, too. And for a CF to run all the way to touch first, the runner would probably have had to round second--makes much more sense the guy would be heading back to first or at least not rounded second with the play in front of him, which is why Dimaggio threw to first as opposed to having the ability to loaf all the way to the bag without a race.

Oh and that game's listed as a day game so I'd say the "primetime" was wrong too.

Jere said...

The Mays DP: 8/15/1951 (photo of runner being tagged out)

1-1, top 8th: "A fine running catch and a spectacular throw from Centerfielder Mays to Catcher Westrum doubled up Billy Cox at home"

In the bottom of the 8th, Westrum homered after a Mays single, and the Giants won 3-1.

Jere said...

(For the Mays DP, all I did was go through every (NY) Giants vs. (Brooklyn) Dodgers game and looked at the Giants' DPs. Found Mays' name in a few but narrowed it down to ones where he threw home. There was one other one where he threw out a guy at home in the late innings but the 1951 one was described just as Creamer said it so that has to be it.

Dr. Jeff said...

Good research guys!

laura k said...

I just finished reading the interview with Creamer. WOW! Great, great, great!

I loved his perspective on steroids, so sensible and smart, as I would expect. (I did think the question 'Would Babe Ruth have used steroids' was a bit ridiculous. The answer is DUH, of course, he might have taken them for fun! But it was a good way to get Creamer's thoughts on steroid use.)

Readers may have noticed that when relating details of games, Creamer referred many times to the vagaries and fallibility of memory. IMO whether or not he got each detail correct is unimportant - irrelevant.

A great read. Thanks, Allan, for bringing it to our attention. I will thank the interviewer as well.

laura k said...

"In short I have the thrill of remembering what a Ruthian homer looked like up close – simply gorgeous. That beautiful swing and Ruth’s big face looking up watching it go as he starts to run. And the ball, already enormously high in the air as it floated past the infield. I mean, I saw Babe Ruth hit home runs."