Tuesday, June 7, 2005

james atkins - part two

Q: So you actually had a scout look at you when you were thirteen. Did you listen to pro ballgames on the radio?

A: Back at that time they didn’t have radio broadcasts. Back then when they only had sixteen teams you knew about all the ballplayers, their batting averages, win-loss percentage and everything else.

Q: Did you find out from the newspaper?

A: I did then but I don’t take the paper now so I don’t keep up with it too good.

Q: Did you have a favorite team or a favorite player?

A: No, not that I can remember. Just all of it, like I say. You just noticed it.

Q: You had a scout look at you when you were thirteen and you were obviously too young. When do the scouts start looking at you again?

A: Well, in 1941. I talked to them all along but in 1941 a scout for Detroit by the name of Eddie Goosetree – he was out at Stockham; I was working and playing for Stockham then – and one day the shortstop didn’t show up so I talked to the manager and told him to let me play it and it was one of those days where everything I did worked out. I went over in the hole and threw them out and got three or four hits and all like that. And that night Eddie Goosetree talked me into getting on a train the next day and going to Detroit for a tryout. I was at Detroit when they signed Dick Wakefield. Jack Zeller, the general manager, told me, Well, you can’t make it at shortstop, which I knew, but Zeller signed me as a pitcher.

Anyway, then Zeller asked me what I wanted to sign. I told him I wanted a new car and his hat. Well, he gave me the hat and told me to go to Texarkana and if I stayed down there for thirty days or so he’d send me the money for a car.

Well, I got down there and I had a girlfriend back home and I was in love and all like that and not old enough to sign a contract and my dad didn’t sign it so I came on back home. I had one win and one loss and two hits in six at-bats, one of them a home run. But, anyway, I came back and went in the service.

Q: Tell me about your dad not signing the contract. Why wouldn’t he sign it?

A: What he didn’t particularly care about was me having to stay for thirty days to get the money. But the way things worked out, I think I might’ve called him and told him not to sign it because one of the lesser people in the organization told me they had a check for me in the office and the man in the office said, No, we don’t have anything, so that’s when I called my dad and told him. Back then Detroit had 95 or 100 ballplayers with improper signings and so I told him not to and I came on home.

Q: So you played for Detroit’s farm team but you never signed with them.

A: That’s right.

Q: And then you went in the service. What year was that?

A: 1942.

Q: Did you sign up or were you drafted?

A: I signed. I was in the Marine Corps. I didn’t get to play ball. When I was stationed on Guam there was ten or twelve of us who got together – no uniforms, no catcher’s equipment, maybe two or three bats and not many gloves – and we started playing the different teams around. And we’d go there and they’d lend us catcher’s equipment and gloves and a bat or two. Well, one of the men there with us was coming home and he went through Honolulu. Pearl Harbor was down there and he told them that he thought I was a pretty good ballplayer. The Army had moved out and the Navy was moving in with ballclubs. Joe August was the fellow’s name and he told them he thought I was a good ballplayer and could help.

And it just so happened that I had a big party arranged on Sunday morning. I’d managed to get beer and whiskey and had about twenty or twenty-five men from Birmingham coming up. I had six stripes. I was a sergeant. And I had the NCO Club all set up and the people started coming in about 11:30 and about that time an MP showed up and said, Hey, Jim. Sergeant Major wants to see you. And I said, Tell him I’ll be over there after while. No, he said, he wants to see you now. So I went over there and he said, Well, I don’t know what it is, Jim, but they want me to put you on a plane at 1:30 and send you to Honolulu.

Well, I was engineering chief in a C-47 out there and they were phasing them out and letting China have them and I said, Oh heck, here it is. I’m going to China. But I got down there and went into the airport and everybody was all starched and everything and I had my old combat shoes on, you know, and old dungarees and my shirt hadn’t seen an iron in eighteen or twenty months, but they told me when I got down there to find a Marine MP and tell him who I was, so I ran up on one and told him who I was, and he jumped up, Yes, Sergeant. We’ve been waiting on you. And there again, I thought, Here it comes. China. Anyway, they had a jeep waiting for me, and ran me out to the Ewa airfield about thirty miles away, and when we got to the main building I told them who I was and they said, Yeah, Sergeant. We’ve been waiting on you.

They had another jeep there and so they took me down to the mess hall and they had tomatoes, milk, sandwiches. And they had mayonnaise for them, you know. I hadn’t seen any of this in fifteen or eighteen months. Anyway, they made me a couple of sandwiches and took me across the street, put me in a barracks that had hot water which I hadn’t seen in some time and I must’ve stayed in the shower forty-five minutes. But I went in and went to sleep and the next morning somebody was shaking me gently. Sergeant? You ready to go eat? And I still have China in the back of my mind. I said, Yeah, so we went across the street to the mess hall and they had eggs and bacon and ham. And it was all just like they were having something to really sell me on going somewhere, you know?

Anyway, I ate and the driver, the fellow that took me down to the main office down there, was a Marine gunner. That was the highest office that an enlisted man could get to. His name was Barry. Gunner Barry. I got down there and he said, Jim, welcome to Honolulu. So I said, Sir, my time was up down south. I’m ready to go back to the States. He said, Well, we’re getting up a ballclub. And if you’ll stay, you can go home anytime you say. So I said, Okay, and I stayed there about five or six months. One night they said the war was over and the next morning I was over in his office and that afternoon I was onboard a ship coming back to the States.

Q: How was the quality of baseball in the service?

A: I’d say it’d be A or Double A. Gosh, on our ballclub we had Bob Kennedy and Ted Williams. Ted Lyons was our manager and pitched a little bit.

Q: So you were on a team with Ted Williams before you got to the Red Sox.

A: Yeah. Across the whole league you had Pesky and Dee Miles and all of the fellows that were in the Navy out there. I know there were two or three fellows from Birmingham. Luman Harris was out there. They knew I’d been down south and wouldn’t have to go back. It made me feel bad because Dee Miles and Luman and all those fellows that I knew back in Birmingham were just scared to death that they were going to be shipped down south. I really felt sorry for them because I knew that I wouldn’t have to go back. It was a good league. We played two or three times a week, but the difference would be being in shape. In pro ball you try to stay in shape a little better.

Q: So you get discharged when the war is over.

A: December the 10th is when I got discharged. I had played ball for Ted Lyons out there and Ted was offering me to get a contract with the White Sox. As a matter of fact, I got a Christmas card where he sent the terms and everything, but when I was home on leave I met the woman who would be my wife. And I was in love again. I was planning on getting discharged out there on the West Coast and going to Spring Training with the White Sox.

Q: Do you come all the way home?

A: Well, I went to North Carolina to get discharged.

james atkins - part one
james atkins - part three
james atkins - part four
james atkins - part five

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