New Uni Watch column on ESPN.com today, and it’s all about baseball pants pockets. While researching the article, I queried the membership of the Society for American Baseball Research to see if they knew of any good stories about players keeping various items in their pockets. I got lots of good responses — too many to include in the ESPN piece. But the stories are too good to waste, so I’m posting them here:
• From Wayne McElreavy: “Supposedly Gates Brown was once about to devour a hot dog when he was called upon to pinch-hit. He stuffed the dog in his pocket, then got mustard and/or ketchup on his uniform when he slid into a base.” This account is backed up here.
• From Jared Wheeler: “Nellie Fox use to keep a red hankerchief in his back pocket, with about a quarter of an inch showing.” You can sort of see it here (that’s Fox on the right, and it looks like Luis Aparicio has something in his pocket too), although apparently his handkerchiefs weren’t always red.
• From Scott Merzbach: “Bob McGee’s book The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field and the Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers has an anecdote about Frenchy Bordagaray getting tagged out on a play in which he didn’t slide, because he had cigars in his back pocket.”
• From former big-leaguer Dave Baldwin: “Many pitchers in the 1960s and ’70s kept a rosin bag in their hip pocket. This was perfectly legal, and saved them wasted energy in bending over to pick the bag off the mound after each pitch. Some pitchers kept a bag of talc — from where the umpires stood, talc and powdered rosin looked much the same, so the pitcher merely touched his two pitching fingers on the bag to cover them with a layer of the slippery talc. The whiteness of the fine powder was hard to see on the white ball, and most of it flew off when the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt. The ump never suspected. Pitchers called this a ‘dry spitter.'”
• Frank Vaccaro came up with a bunch of 19th-century examples: “Whenever Davy Force caught the last out of a game, he always nonchalantly put the ball in his pocket and walked off the field. Sadie McMahon, an 1890s pitcher, carried ‘lamp-black’ in his back pocket to darken new balls. Ed Daily, of the 1880s, pitched with a handkerchief hanging out of his back pocket, something that may have been in vogue for many players at that time. John Grim always batted with a miniature wood bat replica in his pocket for good luck.”
• Pockets have even figured in injuries. On Sept. 21, 1923, Red Sox rookie Clarence Blethen put his false teeth in his back pocket and ended up biting himself in the backside when sliding into second base. And Bill Nowlin, co-author of Tales from the Red Sox Dugout, quotes the following account from Mickey McDermott, who played in the 1940s and ’50s: “I hit a triple once with the Red Sox. I was running like hell and I slid into third and I had been smoking down in the dugout before I came up, and I’d put a pack of matches in my back pocket, and when I slid they caught fire and there was smoke coming out of my ass and the third baseman said, ‘You son of a bitch, you can really run!’ The smoke was going like a flamethrower and I was yelling, ‘Yoww!’ I had a blister on my ass like an apple.”
• And then there are these two stories, which Uni Watch will allow to speak for themselves. From Dave Baldwin: “Another interesting back-pocket item was a pistol carried by an outfielder in winter ball in Venezuela in the early ’70s. I can’t remember who the player was. Apparently the pistol-packing player had made some local enemies and was prepared for a ballpark shoot out. I imagine that made his teammates a little uneasy.” And from Merritt Clifton: “Twice I’ve been playing ball various places when an opposing player lost a handgun from his pocket, once while rounding second and once while rounding third. The time the guy was rounding second, I was in centerfield and overheard the discussion as the shortstop handed back the gun when the runner retreated to the bag:
“Hey man, you lost your gun.”
“No problem. I’ve got another in my sock.”
“Whatcha doin’ with those out here?”
“Dangerous neighborhood, man.”
Big, big thanks to all the SABR members who responded.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Throwback news: The Mariners will be dressing up as the 1969 Seattle Pilots on July 9th. … The University of Nebraska-Omaha’s hockey team is holding a design contest for a 10th-anniversary logo. … Badger State report from Uni Watch Wisconsin bureau chief the Rev. Nørb, who writes: “At the Father’s Day Brewers/Indians game, my eagle-eyed brother pointed out that Brewers middle reliever Geremi Gonzalez was wearing a regular Brewers batting helmet, as opposed to the (obviously quite superior) retro Sunday throwback ball-in-glove logo helmets that everyone else was wearing.” … Gabe Kapler has worn batting gloves for most of his career, including his stints with the Tigers, Rangers, Rockies, Red Sox, and in Japan. But Uni Watch Lifetime Achievement Scholar Mark Mihalik notes that when Kapler made his season debut with the Red Sox earlier this week, he was gloveless — apparently the first time he’d batted without gloves since briefly experimenting with the bare-handed style in spring training of 1998. … Latest Japanese baseball observation by Uni Watch Far East Consultant Jeremy Brahm: The Seibu Lions’ shoes used to have stripes that matched their uniform colors. … Bill Blevins alertly caught a few screen-grabs of Mariano Rivera preparing for his first career regular-season at-bat. “He was originally was wearing Jeter’s helmet, but within a minute the equipment staff had found what appears to be a new helmet with Mariano’s 42.” … This trend of ballplayers removing the elastic from their pant cuffs is getting way out of hand. … Toronto’s Jason Frasor was still wearing the MLB Father’s Day ribbon on Tuesday night (good catch by Michael Murray). … Interesting footwear note from Chris Murphy, who’s alerted Uni Watch to these grass-patterned soccer shoes, which create sort of a camouflage effect (except, of course, for the Puma logo striping).
Incidentally: I usually like to be available on the day an ESPN column runs, but I’m heading off to this afternoon’s Mets/Reds game, and I’ve got post-game plans too, so I won’t be around today to respond to comments and e-mails. Talk amongst yourselves and all that.