Tuesday, June 7, 2005

james atkins - part three

Q: And after you’re discharged, which way do you go then?

A: Well, I got my old job back at Stockham for a while, and I talked with them about changing me from the job I had. You could walk in off of the street and in thirty-five or forty minutes do it as well as I did. See, then, being skilled labor, being an electrician or a machinist, was the future. And they had an apprenticeship program. So I kindly gave them an ultimatum that if they didn’t change my job in a week or two – I forget now what it was – well, then I was going to leave. Then this one Friday, just a minute or two before we left, the foreman came by me. His name was Gag Merrill. He was a fine fellow, a good man. And I said, Gag, have you heard anything about them changing my job? He said, No, but I’ll run up and see. And he came back in two or three minutes and he said, No, Bud. Everybody who knew me around Birmingham called me Buddy or Bud. He came back and said, No, Bud. They haven’t heard anything. And I took the machine there that I was running, and I said, Now, Gag. I’m not being disrespectful or anything else, but do you think this is a good job? He said, Yeah, Bud. This is a good job. You can make money. I said, Well, if you think it’s a good job then take it and stick it somewhere. And at four minutes after eleven I hit the clock.

Q: If you hadn’t quit that job, would you have ever played pro ball?

A: If they had given me the apprenticeship then I would’ve stayed there.

Q: What makes you want to stay there instead of going to Spring Training with the White Sox?

A: Well, I was past twenty-five. And back then, by thirty or thirty-five everybody was quitting. And I just figured that it wouldn’t work out.

Mr. Dick Stockham called me at my mother and daddy’s house and told me that if I’d come back then they’d change my job and give me an apprenticeship, but I said, No, Mr. Stockham, I’ve quit. But I would like to make one request, and he said, What’s that? And I said, I would like to pitch for you until we play Acipco. I’d like to beat Acipco, and then I’ll quit. He said, You can stay as long as you want and pitch as much as you can.

I pitched against Acipco on a Saturday, seven or eight innings, and beat them, and the next Wednesday, I believe it was, I got a call from south Alabama. And it was a fellow who had quit Stockham and had started selling and south Alabama was his territory. I forget now what he was selling. But he called and told me that Geneva, Alabama had a ballclub and why I didn’t come down there and try out. This was in the Alabama State League. He said, Come on down. They’ll pay your way. Well, I put all my fishing equipment in, put the boat motor in the car, and took off down there expecting them to pay my expenses and I figured I’d just drive on to Florida and do some fishing. And I got down there and they were playing ball in Greenville and the vice president of the club and his wife took me over there. Well, the next morning they worked out so I went out and threw about four or five pitches for batting practice, and the manager called time and came in there and said, Are you ready to sign? He asked me what I wanted. And I told him. He said, Well, let me go talk to New Orleans, so they signed me and that night I relief pitched four innings of hitless ball.

Anyway, I signed June the 3rd and the season was over September the 1st and I had twenty wins and five losses. And I told the manager, Chuck Holly, I said, Now Chuck, I’ve been in the Marine Corps four years and I’m grown man. Now if you want me to pitch, just ask me, and if I think I’m able I’ll pitch.

Everybody else was singing those dirty songs on the bus but Chuck would sing “The Lord’s Prayer” and one thing and another. He lived in Boston. After I got to the Red Sox, Chuck came by and got me one time and took me out to his place and said, Jim, I want to thank you. And I said, For what? He said, Well, I got a job with the Braves scouting, and I used you as an example of who I’d signed, and with the money they paid me I went to law school. I’ve never seen anybody be so grateful.

Q: So where do you go after Geneva?

A: New Orleans.

Q: And how long do you play for New Orleans?

A: 1947, 1948 and part of 1949. In 1949 they traded me and Red Mathis, a catcher, to Birmingham for Pete Modica.

Q: Are you happy to be back in Birmingham?

A: Oh yeah.

Q: Are the Barons affiliated with a Major League club at the time?

A: Yeah, the Red Sox.

Q: So the Red Sox got first dibs on you since that was the Barons’ affiliation.

A: And they bought me from Birmingham. I was under contract to Birmingham and they bought me from Birmingham.

Q: When they buy your contract from Birmingham, you get a raise for becoming a big league player but do you get any kind of bonus when your contract is sold?

A: Oh yeah, you get a big league contract. I had it when I signed that I get so much a month and, I believe, it was 20% of my sales price.

Q: Is it the end of the season when you go to Boston? You pitch one game for the Red Sox in 1950.

A: Yeah. I went in in relief and faced Hal Keller. Do you know King Kong Keller of the Yankees? It was his brother, Hal. I had two strikes on him and usually a left-handed hitter won’t hit a high pitch but I threw one up over his head and he tomahawked that thing for a home run.

Q: That was the only home run you ever gave up in the Major Leagues. Did he hit it over the wall at Fenway?

A: No, he hit it in the bullpen out there in right center. You don’t think about a left-hander being a highball hitter. They might be a highball drinker but you look for them to be a lowball hitter.

Q: What else did you throw besides a fastball?

A: Well, I had a knuckleball. The last pitch that I threw in the Major Leagues was a knuckleball to Yogi Berra and he popped it out to the shortstop. I use that as my chief claim to fame.

Q: Did you throw anything else?

A: A little piece of a curve. I threw a screwball but that was later in my career.

Q: Now who taught you the knuckleball?

A: Me.

Q: Could you control it at all? You walked eleven guys in the Majors and only struck out two. That sounds like you might’ve been throwing the knuckler.

A: Well, I didn’t realize I was all that wild but I guess I was.

Q: You’re older than the average rookie when you get there. Did they treat you like a rookie?

A: You couldn’t get treated any better. Dom DiMaggio, Stephens, Pesky and Bobby Doerr, Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder. They’d go out to eat and say, Hey Jim, come go with us, and all like that. No, you couldn’t beat them for being friends.

Q: Since you are a little older than most rookies, and you’ve already played with Ted Williams, do you feel like you belong there when you get into the clubhouse for the first time or are you still a little bit in awe?

A: Well, I don’t think anybody could walk in there and say, I belong. Steve O’Neill was the manager and I didn’t know whether to call him Mr. O’Neill or whatever. But I don’t believe anybody could just walk in and say, I’m really part of the ballclub.

james atkins - part one
james atkins - part two
james atkins - part four
james atkins - part five

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