Tuesday, June 7, 2005

james atkins - part four

Q: Had you ever been to Boston before you joined the Red Sox?

A: No, I hadn’t. What it was – there was a woman who had a big old three or four story house and in the summertime she rented to ballplayers. In the wintertime she had the hockey players. Dropo and several of us ballplayers lived there so that made it fine. You didn’t have to spend a lot of time by yourself and you always had somebody with you to go eat.

Q: How long were you up that year to only get in one game?

A: We went into Philadelphia and I was supposed to pitch the second game of a doubleheader and we had rain for four or five days. But I honestly believe that in 1951 the Red Sox sent me out in a hurry. I went to Louisville and won 18 ballgames. And if I’m not mistaken, I had 17 complete games. I think that that year I could’ve won 10 or 12 for the Red Sox.

Q: Did you not have a good spring?

A: I don’t know what it was. But in 1952, when Boudreau came in, they were supposed to start the youth movement then and here I am 31 years old with no more experience than I have.

Q: Where did you start the season in 1952?

A: I went north with the team from Spring Training and started off the season.

Q: And you pitched in three games.

A: Two in Fenway and one in Yankee Stadium.

Q: And that was all at the beginning of the season. You started one game.

A: Against Washington.

Q: You had a good ERA. Why’d they send you down?

A: You’d have to tell me. Whenever I got sent out, right after pitching in Yankee Stadium, one of the writers from Boston wrote that it looked like Big Jim’s made a place for himself on the ballclub. Said I had the best earned run average and the best batting average. I was two for three in hitting. It came out in Sunday’s paper and the next day I was sent down. They told me I was going to Baltimore.

Q: That’s a strange thing. You pitched well.

A: Del Wilbur was the catcher that they got from the Phillies. I imagine that they had three or four ballplayers that the Phillies had a chance to get and if you’ve got a pitcher than won 18 ballgames in Triple A and you’ve got a chance to get him why then you say, Get me Atkins. I just figured that that’s what it was. That the Phillies had a chance to pick up some pitching and since I had won 18 games in 1951 then they took me.

Q: How did you find out you’d been traded?

A: Boudreau told me. I was in the hotel. It was in the morning before we even went to the ballpark.

Q: Were you upset?

A: Well, you’d be kindly perturbed, because we had that Walt Masterson, and when they sent me out, he faced 17 straight hitters and either walked them or they got a base hit off him.

Q: When did you know that your last Major League game is your last Major League game?

A: That night or the next morning.

Q: That soon? Didn’t you think that you’d get back to the big leagues?

A: Well, no. Because when I got back to Boston and talked with Cronin – he was the general manager – he never did say that they were going to bring me back or whatever, but then he never did say, Well, you’re going to be gone.

Q: Was this because of their supposed youth movement?

A: Well now, what it was – Boudreau started out with the young ballplayers, and they played pretty good ball. Then, whenever they started losing, then he wanted to start using Pesky and Stephens and Dropo and Birdie Tebbetts and all of those older ballplayers. Well, they hadn’t been playing so they were out of shape so they never got a chance to reach their peak at that time.

Q: So you were pretty sure that when you were sent down that that would be your last Major League game.

A: I didn’t give it too much thought but I didn’t think too much about going back because whenever they tell you that your contract’s been sold then you know you’re not on their roster anyway.

Q: How many more years did you play pro ball?

A: I quit at the end of 1957.

Q: Was the money good enough that baseball was your job and you could set a little aside?

A: I played as long as I was making the same money playing ball as I would at skilled labor. Now when I quit in 1957 – I forget what my salary was – I was 14 and 5.

Q: So you were still throwing well.

A: Well, I was second in winning percentage and second in earned runs.

Q: Where was this?

A: I was in Birmingham. And that was the year I had the 10 2/3 innings of hitless ball. I was a relief pitcher and Pesky was the manager and they were always asking Pesky when I was going to get to start, and he said, Well, probably never, because I was too valuable as a relief pitcher. I believe, in 1957, I had 192 innings pitched. That was mostly as a relief pitcher.

Q: You must have gone into almost every game.

A: Well, just about. I was the long relief man. Harry Nicholas was the short man and I was the set-up man, or whatever you want to call it, but he very seldom relieved me. I usually stuck out the ballgame when I went in. I just believe, with me the long man and Harry the short man, that that was probably as good or better relief pitching that the Southern League has ever seen.

Q: So what made you retire? Did you think you could make more money outside baseball?

A: No, Jimmy, my oldest son, was 10 and my other son was 4 or 5 and I just figured that with them getting that age, and one thing and another, that I needed to be around. So I just quit.

james atkins - part one
james atkins - part two
james atkins - part three
james atkins - part five

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