The off-season movement is over, and the Spring Training games have yet to get going full tilt, leaving very little to talk about. However this era of specialization and optimizing players situationally reminds me of one of my favorite baseball anecdotes.
The ultimate specialist in baseball history was Hubert Pruett. Pruett’s career spanned 10 season in MLB as a below average LHP in the 1920’s. He did possess one remarkable baseball skill – Babe Ruth could not hit him. In his first 13 plate appearances against Pruett, Ruth fanned 10 times. (Ruth did eventually take him deep once.)
Pruett used his baseball money to pay for medical school and eventually pursued a medical career. According to legend, one of his patients in later years was an ailing Babe Ruth. At their first meeting, Pruett reportedly introduced himself as a former pitcher who owed his career to the Babe, and thanked Ruth for helping him pay for medical school. To which Babe Ruth replied that he was very glad to not be able to hit him.
And on to my other favorite old time baseball anecdote.
Fresco Thompson was journeyman second baseman for the Phillies, Pirates and Giants in the 1930’s. Towards the end of his career, he was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, where a rash of injuries pressed him into duty as a temporary third baseman. During one game against the Cardinals, future Hall of Famer Chick Hafey, a notoriously deadly right-handed pull hitter, smashed a line drive towards third that cracked Thompson in the knee and deflected out into LF for a double. The next time Hafey came up, Thompson positioned himself in shallow LF. Hafey observed this, and laid down a bunt single. After the inning, as the story goes, Thompson entered the dugout and immediately asked the batboy if he had a dime. Once assured he did, Thompson instructed the boy “Go to the refreshment stand and buy an ice cream cone, preferably strawberry, and deliver it to Chick Hafey with my compliments. And be sure to tell him if he bunts again, he’ll get another one.”