"I don't think he noticed the tears in my eyes as he very
slowly walked out of the visitor's clubhouse at Sportsman's Park for what
would be the last time."
LOU GEHRIG's incredible streak of 2,130
consecutive games came to an end in May,
1939. After Lou took himself out of the lineup on May 2nd,
the Yanks then traveled to St. Louis to play the Browns where Jimmy
Palermo helped dress and bid a final farewell to his old friend.
it look easy, but it was Ted William's super-human commitment that
earned him a place in the
Baseball Hall of Fame.
VINCENT "JIMMY" PALERMO in April, 1939 at age 18, top, and today, above.
PART ONE: May 7 - 9, 1939
Red Sox rookie
Ted Williams gets "hung on
Reflecting back on my life during those wonderful years
in which I was fortunate enough to be involved in the everyday events
of Major League baseball in St. Louis and befriend the Browns, Cardinals
and many of the
ballplayers from the rest of the league, I remember one week in early
May of 1939 that stands out as my most memorable, and a harbinger of
Although Franklin D. Roosevelt was slowly bringing America
out of the throws of the depression in 1939, the Browns continued to
as well as on the field. A civic-minded group of St. Louis businessmen,
lead by investment banker Donald L. Barnes, purchased the team in
1937 hoping to put the financially crippled franchise back on its feet
preserve American League baseball in St. Louis. They sunk a considerable
sum of money into upgrading the team and developing a better farm system.
DEWITT was the general manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1939.
the Browns continued to languish in the second division and attendance
for Brownie games hit rock bottom in 1939. Even with injected capital
of $100,000 from Barnes and his other nine directors in May of 1939,
the general manager, Bill DeWitt, could barely make payroll.
on a hand-to-mouth basis there was very little in the budget for maintenance
of Sportsman’s Park much less player amenities that were enjoyed at
other ballparks like Yankee Stadium, Fenway and Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The
visitors’ clubhouse was old, dark, damp and cramped. We kept
it spick-and-span clean, but because of limited built-in locker space,
any rookie who traveled to St. Louis stood a real good chance of hanging
clothes on a nail.
DOERR was a third-year second baseman with Boston in 1939 and
was inducted into the Hall of Fame in1986.
'Congenial' Red Sox hit
town on their first western swing of the 1939 season
The Boston Red
Sox, one of my favorite teams because of the congeniality and generosity
of guys like Joe Cronin,
Jimmie Foxx and Bobby Doerr,
came into St. Louis in early May on their first western swing of the
season. The Sox were coming into the
May 7th opener with the Browns on a seven game winning streak and leading
the league by one game over theYankees.
I arrived at the visitor's clubhouse
around 8 a.m. that day and, along with co-workers and good friends,
Red Kern and Jim Cavanaugh, began to organize the place for
the Red Sox's arrival later that day. The Boston trunks came in just as
finishing up, and then the real work began.
Jimmie Foxx, left and Ted Williams were two of the greatest hitters
of all time.
We first had to unpack the trunks and then place each player's equipment
and uniforms in their respective lockers. If there were any wet uniforms
they went directly into the big gas dryer and any dirty shoes had to be
cleaned and shined by the clubhouse crew. Dirty uniforms, socks
and jocks had to be sent to the laundry.
We had 28 lockers to accommodate the manager, two coaches
and 25 players. In the early part of the season teams were allowed a few
we didn't have any locker space for them. To accommodate the overflow
we had a make shift place on the back wall of the clubhouse, so we designated
that area for the rookies to dress. Because this area was no more than a
few nails in the wall to hang uniforms on and a spot for their trunks we dubbed
this "hung on the wall."
The Boston trainer arrived at the clubhouse first and unpacked
his own trunk in the training room. The training room accommodations
and amenities were limited, especially in comparison to today's standards. The
room had one table for rubdowns, two chairs and a table for medical
We went about our business of doling out baseballs for batting
practice, filling the Cocoa Cola icebox with soda, juices and milk and a long
list of other things. I then hung up the swindle sheet, which
I had to monitor and balance when the team left town. Red and Jim got
all the bats and equipment ready to be taken out to the field as I took
all the orders for everything else like food, drinks, messages, etc.
"Where the hell is my locker!?"
JOE CRONIN was the player - manager
for the Red Sox in 1939.
As the players started to come in I was greeted by Jimmie Foxx, Joe
Cronin, Doc Cramer, Jim Tabor, Bobby Doerr, Elden Auker and Denny Galehouse.
Accompanying these veterans was a tall, skinny kid, about my age,
with a cocky gait.
He scanned the clubhouse for a minute and then said in a loud
voice, "Where the hell is my locker!?"
I asked him his name
and he became even more agitated, but finally said, "Williams." I
yelled back to Jim and asked where he put Williams. Jim, working
in the rear of the clubhouse, yelled back, "We’ve got two rookies ‘on
the wall,’ Sayles and Williams.” Billy Sayles was a
right-handed pitcher who would see only minimal action in a four year
lackluster Major League career.
ROOKIE SENSATION: Williams was the most consistent hitter in big league baseball.
Ted, not immediately realizing what being “on the wall”
meant, followed me to the back of the clubhouse. When he saw his
uniform hanging on a nail, and his baseball shoes sitting on top of
his trunk, his famous temper flared and he impetuously, in no uncertain
terms, threatened that I had better have a locker for him the next time
the Sox came to town.
BOBO NEWSOM Later
that day Williams, who was hitting .350 coming into the game, was one
driving a Bobo Newsom pitch on a line off of the
field wall for a two run double. Ted had the sweetest swing and
best eye that I ever saw. However, the Red Sox streak came to
an end when they could manage only seven hits off of Newsom and lost
The second game of the series was rained out. In the third game,
Boston handed the Browns one of their 111 losses that season, 10-8.
Williams contributed to the offensive barrage with a towering three-run
onto Grand Avenue and my good friend, Jimmie “Double X” Foxx,
lined a two-run circuit clout off of the scoreboard in left.
TED WILLIAMS' famous No.
9 never again hung on a nail after that trip into Sportsman's
Park in May 1939.
the Red Sox came back into St. Louis on their second western swing
on June 8 they were nipping at the first place Yankees’ heels,
and the Browns, under the inept managing of Fred Haney,
were mired in the cellar 25 games off
the pace. Ted’s average had dropped to .285, but he was second in the
league with 38 RBIs and was the talk of the American League. With “The
fifth behind Bobby Doerr, Doc Cramer, Joe Vosmick and “Double X,” the
Sox had one of the most prolific lineups in baseball.
When Ted came into the locker room I personally escorted him to his
locker. When he saw that I had put him between Foxx and Lefty
Grove, two stars of that era and future Hall of Famers, he had a grin
on his kisser that extended from ear to ear. We became good friends
JIMMY PALERMO threw batting practice to Williams often after a game.
Ted went on to have one of the best rookie years in the
lead the Major Leagues in RBIs with 145, tied for the Major League lead
in extra base hits with 86,
lead the American League in total bases with 344,
in the American League in runs scored with 131, second in walks (Harlan
Clift, one of my all time favorite Brownies, was first) with 107, fourth
.609 (team-mate Foxx lead with .694), had 185 hits, stroked 31 homers and
Williams was a perfectionist, the quintessential
student of hitting and drove himself mercilessly to improve. During
the 1939 and 1940 season it was not uncommon for him to ask me to stay around
a game to throw extra
batting practice to him. There was always a nuance of his stride
or swing that he thought could be improved.
“The Splendid Splinter” seemed
to make it all look so easy, but that classic swing and the havoc he rained
on American League pitching those two years and throughout the rest of
of Fame career were the result of an almost super-human commitment and
PART TWO: May 10 - 13, 1939
Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games
came to an end on the 2nd of May in Detroit, above, when Lou took himself
out of the line-up because he thought his puzzling physical weakness was
to the team and he needed time to “get in better shape.”
In striving to do
his best, no matter what the circumstances, many people even today
as an icon and valuable role model.
'When "The Iron-Horse"
walked into the visitors' locker room at Sportsman's Park on May 10th
I barely recognized him.'
That memorable week in May of 1939 saw
the beginning of a great career and, sadly, the beginning of the end
of another as the mighty New York Yankees
followed the Red Sox series and came into town on May 10th.
Although the Bronx Bombers finished the 1939 season 17
games ahead of the second place Red Sox, they were in a virtual dead
heat with Boston
in May. Everyone
knew that the great Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive
games had come to an end on the 2nd of May in Detroit when Lou took himself
the line-up because he thought his puzzling physical weakness was a detriment
to the team and he needed time to “get in better shape.”
He had only four hits and one RBI in the first eight games of the season
and was admittedly very fatigued after every game. During my time
with the Browns from 1926 through the 1938 season I had never seen anyone
first base for the Yankees.
JIMMY PALERMO, above, and Lou Gehrig, below, in 1939.
Gehrig had been an icon of all of the great Yankee teams throughout
the 20s and 30s. His reputation for being one of the physically strongest
and best conditioned players in baseball was surpassed only by his honesty,
modesty. He was simply one of the nicest and most beloved ball
players that I ever met, and a true gentleman.
I had last seen Lou in September of 1938. That year his average
dipped to .295 with 170 hits, 29 home runs and 114 RBIs, a year that
most Major League ballplayers would kill for. But, for Lou, it
may have been the harbinger of things to come.
When “The Iron-Horse” walked into the
visitors’ clubhouse at Sportsman’s Park on May 10th I
barely recognized him.
aura of health and strength that his 6’ 1” 205-210-pound
physique had previously always radiated was gone, replaced by a gaunt
former self. It seemed that Lou was moving in slow-motion, and
his previous fluid and natural athleticism had been replaced by alternating
He dressed for both games of the series, but seemed to have a
difficult time even pulling on his famous number 4. Babe Dahlgren
had replaced him in the line-up. “Buster” as Lou's
teammates fondly called him, didn’t play against the Browns and
never got back into the line-up again.
After the final game of the series in which the Yankees lived up to
their moniker of “The Bronx Bombers” stomping the Browns 7-1 and 15-8,
all the Yankee players came into the clubhouse to prepare for their trip back
I had all their trunks packed with the help of Red Kern and Jim Cavanaugh.
the players left, they paid their swindle sheet tabs, plus tip. (The Yankees
were not only the best on the field, but were among the best tippers too!).
Because it took time for Lou to dress himself due to his deteriorating
physical condition, he and I were alone in the clubhouse.
CLASS ACT: Of all the players in
baseball history, none possessed as much talent and humility as Lou
on the field made him an authentic American hero - and his tragic
early death made him a legend.
After everyone was gone except Lou, he called me over to his locker which
was the second one from the door. He was trying to put on his
shoes, which I had shined many times for him in the past.
"Jimmy, can you help
me with my shoes," he asked as he tried in vain to put them on.
just couldn't bend over from his stool far enough to even slip them
hands shook as I loosened the laces and then slipped both shoes on
his feet, one at a time. He smiled at me and said "thanks."
after Lou attempted to tie them himself and as I stood by, he looked
up and said, "Jimmy, I think you'd better tie them for me too - because
I just can't."
hands still shaking, I tied each
of his shoelaces. He smiled at me again, drew a breath and rose from
the stool. He paid his swindle sheet bill, said "thanks" and
gave me a $10 tip. I don't think he noticed the tears in my eyes as he
very slowly walked out of the visitor's clubhouse at Sportsman's Park for what
would be the last time.
LOU GEHRIG was the first sports
figure in American history to have his jersey number retired.
Since he was late in leaving, and walking
so slowly, I followed him out and told him I'd get a cab so he wouldn't
have to walk down to
Grand Avenue. Most of his teammates had already departed for
Union Station to catch the train to Philadelphia.
I summoned Eddie Moran, the Black and White taxi dispatcher, and
asked him to have a cab pick up Lou outside the press gate. Lou and
I had a couple of minutes
alone together before the cab pulled up.
Always a polite and thoughtful
man, he asked how my mother and father were. When the cab arrived
I opened the door for him. He shook my hand and said, "See you next trip
Jimmy, and thanks for the help." I never saw him in
I returned to the empty clubhouse and cried. Baseball's gentle
giant - a great man and what a player!
the "Iron Horse" of
baseball, who was forced to the bench by amyotrophic lateral scherosis after
playing 2,130 consecutive games, is touched by fans demonstration as he is acclaimed
in a manner unrivaled in baseball history. Upwards of 75,000 jammed Yankee Stadium
to honor Lou. He is shown here - handkerchief to his face - deeply moved by the
ovation they gave him.