Call to the Hall

The MISSING (unpublished) Chapter from Red Legs and Black Sox

 

"I've been runner-up four or five times. Now I'll probably never get in. I'll be past the 30 year limit when the writers next vote and that means I'll be shifted to the old-timer's group. That practically leaves me without a chance."

Edd J. Roush, 1960

"Roush was the greatest in the National League. I was with him. I know."

Earle "Greasy" Neale

"I remember Edd Roush, batting champion of 1917, ancient and glorious in the Old-Timers game in 1975."

Donald Hall. Fathers Playing Catch with Sons, 1984.

 

Yesterday's Hero by Larry Hill (1959)

January 28, 1962. It began like any other day. They each followed their morning routines; both afraid to mention "it." There had been so many other black Januarys - so many other years of disappointment. They both steeled themselves against another failure - in mutual silence.

Essie had been up a good hour and was preparing breakfast. She was wearing her uniform du jour - faded blue cotton shorts and a blue and white patterned halter top. Neither was complimentary and both had seen more than their share of laundry detergent. She wore no make-up and had hastily pushed a bobby pin on each side of her salt-and-pepper hair. She carefully sliced the bacon strips in half and placed them in the new Teflon skillet. She liked having new things in the "Florida house." It was a modest winter home in Bradenton by the standards of the 1960's. The country was experiencing a boom; an exciting, young President was at the helm; and - best of all - spring training was just around the corner.

­ PHOTO: Essie Roush at Hall of Fame, 1962 ­

Also around the corner was the McKechnie mansion. Essie stood in front of the sink looking out the back window at the long expanse of bahia grass, crotons and palmettos that gently floated downhill toward the water. She pursed her thin, British lips together and winced privately as she thought about their modest house on the bayou in comparison with the McKechnie monster on the river. Yes, managers must have drawn bigger salaries than players. But, then, Edd didn't like managing. He didn't have the patience for it. He made the typical mistake of star players, he expected those boys to bat just like he did. When they didn't, he found himself acting like John McGraw. And, Essie remembered vividly how Edd hated John McGraw.

But it was Bill McKechnie who had given Edd his shot at managing. She remembered that he'd returned to baseball that one year just for Bill...'38 was it? Bill had begged him to come to Cincinnati to help him. He said that he had a bunch of youngins' who needed a good batting coach. After Edd's season there, he told Bill that he needed a third baseman. Bill took his advice and got Bill Werber and they won the pennant the next year! At least that's the way Edd told the story. Humm...24 years ago now, but only yesterday...

­ PHOTO: Reds management: McKechnie, Roush and Goudy in 1938 ­

As her eyes came to rest on the bacon frying in the skillet, she remembered. The Veterans Committee was voting today. Would he be passed over again? How could they? He had the most votes the last time, after all. That Baseball Writers' Association of America gave him 146 votes but he needed 202 (75%) to be elected. Sam Rice was next with 143 votes. That was 1960. Now he was over the 30-year limit (Edd retired in 1931) and had to be transferred to the old-timers group called the Veteran's Committee. Essie had read about these twelve powerful men who held a significant piece of her husband's baseball legacy in their hands. The committee chair was some sportswriter from Chicago named Warren Brown. She wished she knew what this Brown was like; she wished she knew his wife. Essie never liked Chicago anyway - Cincinnati was a much better town.

Cincinnati. It was the town where Edd had gained his greatest glory. Two National League batting championships and a World Series. Essie remembered the 1919 diamond stickpin they had given the players. Some of the wives had converted the head of the stickpin to a ring, or a bangle on their charm bracelet. Essie thought it would be ostentatious to wear it, so it lay all alone in the safety deposit box at the bank. It was hidden away, like the memory of that "Black Sox" World Series, a symbol of embarrassment.

Photo: 1919 World Series Championship Stick Pin

 

Essie couldn't have known that as much as Edd and she loved the city of Cincinnati, that love was returned many fold by the citizens of that city. In 1969, the fans of the Cincinnati Reds would be asked to select the "Greatest Reds Ever" in honor of the 100th year of Reds Baseball. Among the star-studded line-up, they chose Edd Roush as the "Greatest Red to ever wear the Uniform."

As Essie stood in her kitchen on that sunny Florida day the memories flooded back. If only those smart-alec sportswriters had seen Edd in his heyday! How he had shocked the experts when he won the National League batting championship in 1917 over that villainous Hal Chase and that arrogant little Benny Kauff! How he had squared off against that arrogant little John McGraw (with his hoity-toity wife, Blanche) and negotiated the biggest salary of any professional baseball player in 1927 ­ $70,000 for three years. Why Edd was the toast of New York City!

Photo : Edd signing the 1927 Contract with McGraw

How about all those All-Star Games and Old Timers Days through the years? Essie remembered that Edd had been in the very first one in 1930. How quickly they forget, she thought.

Rare photo of 1930 Old-Timers Day participants ­

Oh well, at least Bill McKechnie's plaque wasn't hanging in Cooperstown either ­ wherever that was. New York was it...upstate somewhere? She softened as she thought of Bill's wife, Beryl. She had been so sick and he had taken care of her. She had died just as the beautiful Bradenton house was finished and never really gotten to live in it. What a shame.

A white fluffy cloud covered the morning sun for a moment and with it came a morose thought...too old. At 70, likely she'd die before she ever visited that hallowed place - the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Too bad, baseball had been her life too.

* * *

Edd sat in his old, green easy chair next to the small picture window in the corner of the pecky cypress paneled front room. Edd remembered how expensive that termite-resistant cypress was. But in 1951, it was the de rigueur paneling for Florida homes that would be left uninhabited throughout the humid summer months. Essie had insisted on those damned wood parquet floors. He mused at the image of the many years he and she had together slaved on their hands and knees waxing them. They were truly the most unique feature of the little 1,170- square-foot house. The two small bedrooms and single bathroom were aplenty for them. The single air conditioner that would cool the entire house was to come later that decade. For now, the double paned crank-out windows provided a nice breeze off McLewis Bayou for their four-month winter hiatus. They would start packing up to go home to Indiana on the day after spring training ended. As always.

Then, of course, there was one more structure which the neighbors had chuckled about for years. It was known as the "little house." At the Roush's, men were not allowed to use the bathroom in the "big house." Having a separate "Ladies Room" was one of those Puritan streaks within Essie. When it came to bodily functions, Essie was meticulously private. So, Edd built a separate structure nestled behind the carport. It was a modest 8 X 8' cement block building that housed "HIS" toilet and shower. "HERS" was in the house. He didn't mind this, in fact, he preferred to "do his business" in his own private BOQ.

Through the years, more than one sportswriter who had tried to keep up with Edd's consumption of beer during his interview had grumbled as Essie directed him down to the "little house." It was a rare sportswriter who didn't mention the beer-drinking ritual in his column.

"...Roush was knocking back a can of Stroh's and holding court for yet another reporter."

Dan Carpenter - Indianapolis Star (8/4/87)

" As the beer flowed, so did the stories. On the drive back to Evansville that evening, I was feeling pretty good - and it wasn't just from the Pabst Blue Ribbon. To a baseball nut, being in the company of Edd Roush was like hitting a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. It was like having a machine that could take you back in time. It was heaven." - Dave Johnson - Evansville Courier (3/23/88)

"Two-time national batting champion Edd Roush, known for his love of baseball and beer...." First line of Roush obituary. - Associated Press (3/22/88)

At least Edd was allowed to smoke his "stogie" in the Florida house (unlike the ironclad "no smoking" rule in the family home in Oakland City, Indiana). Edd moved in the outer world. Essie controlled their inner world. As always.

Like Essie, Edd was wearing his favorite clothing - his khaki slacks, shirt and old black leather belt with the baseball buckle engraved with his name, a gift from the New York Mets Old- Timers game of a few years back. He sported one decoration that personalized the "costume" ­ his little black leather bow tie. He loved this tie. He loved this chair where he could look out the window and get advance warning if another car of Midwestern autograph-seekers pulled up; he loved this house built by his own hands, and he loved that woman standing in the kitchen cooking his 9,000th breakfast after forty-eight years of marriage.

But, most of all, Edd loved baseball. He was reading the Bradenton Herald, like he did on every winter morning in Florida. He scanned the sports page news about trades and searched for any words that would suggest the date of the arrival of the Milwaukee Braves for their spring training in Bradenton.

An observer might have thought it ironic that one of baseball's most famous "holdouts" was eagerly awaiting spring training. In his playing days, Edd rarely saw more than a week or two of spring training. Edd hated spring training. He despised those rocky outfields in Texas where "a fella could turn an ankle and ruin himself for the season if he wasn't careful." And, Edd kept himself in shape all year around. His favorite manager, Pat Moran once said; "All that fellow has to do is wash his hands, adjust his cap, and he's in shape to hit. He's the great individualist in the game."

Sportswriters loved to quote the famous holdout:

"You come down here and hit against pitchers who aren't in shape. On top of that they're wild young colts. By the time you get through waving at them a few weeks, you're way off your timing and chopping at the air. There's no sense to it." (Jack Jordan, Xenia Sentinel 4/18/46)

"I always thought - and still think - an awful lot of energy is wasted in spring training. If a ballplayer keeps himself in shape around the calendar - as I did - six or seven weeks of training are ridiculous. I'm of the old school. I believe there are so many throws in a man's arm and so many sprints in his legs. So why throw them away in spring training games?" (Ed Rumill, Christian Science Monitor 1/6/73)

So, at contract time, it seemed like a good idea to skip spring training and hold out for more money. And, for sixteen years, teams met his salary demands. Then came 1930 and contract time again with the Giants. This time McGraw turned his back on Roush's demands. The German and the Scotsman both held their ground, and Edd held out the entire season.

Suddenly a sharp sound pierced the solitude of this familial setting. Essie starred at the black carriage phone on the TV table next to the small dining room table at the other end of the kitchen. Could it be them? She didn't dare think it. Quickly she glanced at the clock. Was New York on the same time as Florida? Yes, of course it was. But it was still early. Composing herself, she cleared her throat and answered "hello?" The relief was instantaneous when she recognized the voice of her neighbor, Phoebe. Yes, of course, she and Edd were coming Saturday night. They were looking forward to the "cocktails poolside" at Phoebe and Harolds', as usual. And, yes, she would be home from the Garden Club bridge party in plenty of time. Was there anything she could bring?

Just as Essie hung up the telephone there was a quick little rap on the screen door. She knew who it was without looking and quickly walked over and unlatched the small hook to let him enter, then hurried back to the stove. Allen Hitch came over every morning around 9:30, usually right after his morning "bird walk." If his walk had been fruitful, he would be brimming over with the announcement of a new eagle's nest in one of the tall pines in the empty lot at the end of the street. Allen was a committed Audubonite and had even convinced Edd to join the local club. This was somewhat ironic since Edd had grown up on an Indiana farm and was prone to hunt and shoot birds rather than to "watch" them. But, for years he placated this "city boy" by feigning interest in his latest find.

After all, "Uncle Allen" had always been a good and loyal friend - and the husband of Edd's first cousin, Eva. The Hitchs lived next door and had sold a parcel of their Bradenton property to Edd when he retired from baseball. Allen had acquired the property for retirement purposes while still an executive with Standard Oil of Ohio. He still owned the empty lot across the street and thoroughly enjoyed caring for his citrus trees there. The kumquat tree was always a big hit with northern visitors. Allen laughed at their dour faces when their taste buds screamed as the first drops of this exotic fruit hit their eager tongues.

There was no new eagle's nest today. Allen strode directly to his favorite chair - the round rattan one next to Edd in front of the picture window. Edd put the newspaper down and proceeded to allow himself to be engaged in conversation on topics of interest to his friend. Today's topic was the stock market. Edd respected Allen's business acumen and often said, "Hitch still has the first dime he ever earned."

As they proceeded to chat about their mutual holdings in Sears and Montgomery Ward, it was difficult to imagine two less similar men. The businessman was small of stature, sported crisp khaki walking shorts, thick glasses, binoculars, and, for all the world, looked like Wally Cox playing that indomitable Walter Mitty. One could easily envision a photo of Allen Hitch in National Geographic posing as a British archeologist standing in the middle of a dig in some remote wilderness. His mannerisms reflected an economy of movement and were perfectly aligned with his high-pitched speech patterns - clipped and focused as if he were giving lessons to yet another young Boy Scout seeking his merit badge in bird-watching.

 

 

 

In comparison, his friend Edd looked like the athlete he was. Even at age 68, Edd was robust. (Who knew he was to live 26 more years?) His voice was strong, gestures were large and effortless, and Allen seemed dwarfed next to him. Two bright blue eyes seared through a complexion that was dark tan and leathery. His eyesight was still good enough to spot that high fly ball heading for the ballpark fence. Albeit gray and thinning now, he still sported a head of hair.

One noticeable feature was Edd's high cheekbones. A secret whispered only among family members was that, indeed, Edd's grandmother - old Ma Harrington - had been an Indian. (This may have explained his friendship with Giants teammate Jim Thorpe, of Olympic fame.) He weighed 185 pounds - just ten pounds over his playing weight. Taut muscles lay beneath the sleeves of his khaki shirt. (Edd always wore long-sleeved shirts because he was highly susceptible to skin rashes from mosquitoes, "chigger" bites and poison ivy.) His gnarled, knuckled hands were large and strong, indistinguishable from the tiny outfielder's glove which brought him great fame so long ago.

And there it was. The conversation finally came around to baseball. Both men knew this was the day. Both felt the tension in the air. Allen was mentally building his courage to ask the one question that had been on his mind all morning. He never got the chance to ask that question. The answer came swiftly galloping into the room...

The telephone rang. Essie answered it.

Hello, Mrs. Roush? (strange voice)

Yes. (long pause) Yes, this Mrs. Roush.

This is Paul Kerr, Mrs. Roush. I'm the Secretary of the Veterans Committee and the President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

(no response) I'm calling from New York, Mrs. Roush.

Yes, yes...hello Mr. Kerr! (Louder now as she was suddenly aware of the silence in the front room.) Is it cold up there now?" (What a silly thing to say, she thought.)

Yes, yes it is. Snowed again last night. Wish I were in Florida with you! Branch Rickey just spoke with Bill McKechnie. He's up here in Syracuse visiting his son, Jim. Thought we'd reach both Edd and the Deacon in Florida this time of year.

Essie's mind was racing. McKechnie! Not Bill before Edd! But she lied,

Yes, we heard he was out of town.

May I speak with your husband, Mrs. Roush? Is he there?

Yes, yes, of course. Just a minute.

Essie had no feeling in her body. Some kind of strange wind lifted her from the kitchen around the corner to the opening of the front room. There she saw two wide-eyed old men who had forgotten to breathe. They struck her as comical for a split second, then she regained her composure. She pointed to the phone as if they might not be aware that it had rung.

Edd! It's Paul Kerr from the Baseball Hall of Fame. He wants to speak to you.

Edd got up out of his easy chair and took his time walking into the kitchen. After all, they had certainly taken their sweet time.

Allen was totally frozen. He knew somewhere deep inside that this moment was one of the most important in his life. Simply by being in the room, he would provide witness to this monumental event. Each second would be indelibly implanted in his memory. He would tell the story again and again throughout the remainder of his life. He finally took a breath as he heard Edd answer the phone.

Hello Paul. This is Edd Roush.

Edd...I am calling to say congratulations. It is my official duty to inform you that you have been unanimously elected by the VeteransCommittee to be enshrined as the 89th member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

(silence)

The induction ceremony will take place in Cooperstown in July. We hope that you and your family will be in attendance.

He said it all at once. All of it. All the years, all the waiting, all the disappointment ­ suddenly erased with by a short paragraph spoken by a man on the other end of a telephone. Most of the important messages in Edd's life had arrived by telegram - - the birth of their only child in 1917 when he was playing in Newark with the Federal League - the 1916 trade from the Giants to the Reds - the 1927 trade from the Reds back to the Giants. This one came by telephone.

As it all flooded back, Edd simply said, Thank you, Mr. Kerr.

Then, in a sudden burst of humor, Well, they surely did scrape the bottom of the barrel, didn't they? (chuckle)

Kerr chose wisely to ignore this comment, but chuckled over it when he read the newspaper accounts later. It was vintage Eddie Roush.

He continued, You've been elected along with Bill McKechnie, Edd. I'm sure you'll be pleased about that.

Composed now - the initial shock over. Yes, yes, I am. Bill was a great manager. He certainly deserves it.

Paul continued. Branch Rickey just spoke with Bill in Syracuse. He's visiting his son, you know. Think he got a little emotional. He was very happy. Said he was delighted to share the honor with you, Edd."

Edd interrupted. When is the induction again?

July 23rd. My people will get the details to you. Of course, there are four of you this year, as you know. Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson have been chosen by the active player committee. I'm sure you knew about that...

Yes, I read that." (Edd was ambivalent about accepting his highest honor along with a black man, however accomplished he was. These feelings would fade when he met Jackie in Cooperstown and learned to both like and respect the great athlete. Essie loved Mrs. Robinson. She would later say, That Mrs. Robinson has class.)

Kerr waited, but no other comment was forthcoming. He then got down to business. Edd, we need to know here at the Hall how you want your name to read on your official plaque. By all accounts, I understand you spell Edd with two d's. Is that right?

Yes sir. It's the name my dad give me and the way my dad spelled it. He didn't want any Edwards in the family. The middle name is just the initial 'J'. My twin brother, Fred and I both have a 'J' because our two granddads were named Jerry and Joseph, so my dad just gave us the middle initial 'J' - no period after it.

Well, that explains that. Oh, and Edd...we'll be doing a display on each inductee. We'll need you to send us some of your game-worn paraphernalia. Do you still have one of your old gloves? Maybe a bat or a uniform?

Yep, sure do.

Of course, you realize that whatever you send us will become part of our private collection here at the Hall. Your things will be on permanent display from now on. (pause) We have thousands of visitors who come up here every year, Edd. Your fans will want to see your memorabilia.

That's okay with me, Paul. Just tell me whatever you need me to do.

Well, I've completed my duties here. If you have any questions, just give us a call, Edd. We'll take care of all the details.

Okay. I know this call is costing you money. (Edd's mind was racing to find the right question in the myriad of questions that would crystallize in the next few hours.)

By the way...we're releasing this announcement to the Associated Press now, so you may get one or two phone calls from some reporters today. (This proved to be a giant understatement.) Hope to see you in Cooperstown this summer, Edd. We'd like all the fellows to be there. We put on a good show up here. Of course, we'll pay for you and your family to come.

I was wonderin' when you might get to that part. (chuckle) We'll be there. Thanks, Paul.

 

As Edd hung up, he turned to see his wife's beaming and tear-streaked face across the room. She had imagined this moment so many times before - how it would sound, how it would feel. It was nothing like that at all. It was much more wonderful. Although she would release tears of pride as he walked across the platform to claim his plaque in July, nothing would ever equal this moment. This was the moment she had lived for.

Edd raised his head in a slightly cocky angle and said,

Well, it's official! That old-timers committee elected me to the Hall. Pack your bags, Mrs. Roush. We're going to Cooperstown!

Behind her stood Allen Hitch, who wanted to cry more than anyone. Instead, he walked the ten steps across the room and extended his hand to his oldest and dearest friend. Allen said, Let me be the first to congratulate you, Edd. No man ever deserved it more!

They had no sooner begun to shake hands than the phone rang again. It was a reporter with the New York Herald Tribune. And, that was just the beginning. They came in rapid succession; "Hello Mr. Roush, please hold for Commissioner Frick"...Warren Giles, Gabe Paul, Jack Mann, Frank Graham, Barney Kremenko, Murray Roginson, Dana Mosley, Ken Smith, Fred Lieb, and, yes, even John Vosburgh with Audubon Magazine.

­ PHOTO: 1962 HOF Induction: Roush, Robinson, Feller and McKechnie ­

 

Red Legs and Black Sox

Description of Contents

 

PART 1: On the Road to Greatness (1909-1917)

Roush early years in minor leagues, KITTY league, Federal League (Indianapolis and Newark).

Cup o' Coffee with the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants.

 

PART 2: Cincinnati Reds and the making of a Championship Team (1916-1919)

Black Sox Scandal - impact of Reds then and now.

 

Edd J.Roush and granddaughter Susan Dellinger 1988

 

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