Trapshooting and Baseball

I once ate dinner in my home with Babe Ruth. It was early in 1938. Being a little over one year old, I doubt if I contributed much at dinner that evening other than possibly spitting up on a hand-crocheted bib that I always despised wearing. Maybe knowing about that night but not remembering it forever instilled in my heart a great love for baseball. The Babe spent that afternoon in our backyard making a Remington .22 cartridge magazine ad with my dad and the folks from B. B. D. & CO. advertising agency of New York City.

The old ballplayer had been retired for more than four years. During his great years with the Yankees, he and my dad had some memorable times together. Father told me some of those tales at bedtime when, as a five- to eight-year-old, I refused to go to sleep without a story. When I got older, he told me about Ruth's legendary
"womanizing."

nullRuth loved to hunt, and he occasionally shot trap. I don't think he ever shot a registered target, but he spent a lot of weekends in Millerton, NY, a little town about three hours north of New York City. He had a girlfriend who lived near the Millerton Rod and Gun Club which had a small rifle range and two trapfields. After his death in 1948, The Sportsmen's Review (forerunner of TRAP & FIELD) ran a few paragraphs about his trapshooting at Millerton.

During the 1930s, much of the land west of my home in Danbury, Conn., was owned by Harry B. Mallory. He also owned the Mallory Hat Company, the largest and most profitable of the more than 100 hat and related businesses in Danbury. My grandfather worked there for almost 50 years and died of "the hatter's shakes," a disease acquired from the mercury used in treating rabbit skins. Harry Mallory liked to entertain, and he liked baseball. Though a hunter of sorts, he kept no hunting dogs. If he prided himself of anything, it was his ability to make good hard cider each fall.

When the leaves fell and the hunting season opened, he'd often invite ballplayers to hunt on his land. He owned and leased one "square mile. Since he had no dogs, he would ask me and dad if he would like to accompany his guests and, of course, bring his bird dogs and beagles along, depending on the game they planned to hunt.

One Friday evening Mr. Mallory called Father and asked him if he could bring over his big liver-and-white pointer the next morning. A flight of woodcock were in, and Babe Ruth and Yankee catcher Bill Dickey were his weekend guests.

Dad woke up that morning to find the rain coming down in sheets. He simply wouldn't hunt in that kind of weather, so he delayed the 10 minute drive to Mallory's until the rain subside. About noon, he walked into Mr. Mallory' clubhouse to find Ruth, Dickey and Mallory soaking wet and already into the cider.

Ruth looked at him and said, "Baldy, we waited and waited for you, and when you didn't show up, we just went hunting without you and your GD dog. You sure missed out on some great woodcock shooting. Just look over there." Dad walked over to an empty cider barrel, and there lay about 50 dead flight robins-and not a single woodcock. He never figured out if they consumed the cider before or after the hunt.

In 1945 George "Snuffy" Stirnweiss, the Yankees' second baseman, won the American League batting championship with a low .309 average (all the good hitters were still in the service) .

Mallory's biggest competitor, the Lee Hat Company, started filming hunting and fishing movies around this time. The films were sent to sportsmen's clubs and shown after meetings or as fund-raisers. One such film was about a pheasant hunt, starring Yankee Snuffy Stirnweiss and eight-year-old Dick Baldwin. I really became hooked on baseball and became a loyal Yankee fan after spending a few days with Stirnweiss.

Long before the days of TV, I listened to Yankee baseball on a small radio hooked up to a metal coat hanger that acted as an antenna. Our upstairs bathroom always brought in the best reception. Many a night I fell asleep on the tile floor listening to the heroics of Joe Page, Charlie Keller, the great DiMaggio and a young rookie named Mantle.

During the day, boys in our neighborhood played baseball from the time the sun came up until it was too dark to play. I knew I'd play in the majors some day.

My dad started me trapshooting at the age of 10. On most Saturdays during the winter and spring, we shot at the prestigious New York Athletic Club in Pelham Manor, N .Y. There was no trapshooting in the fall. We hunted every day we could. The NYAC had some high-roller members in those days. Alfred Comwell was president and CEO of F. W. Woolworth & Co., Jack Shattick owned the Schraft Candy Co., Harry Thoens headed up New York City's biggest real estate firm, and Roger Fawcett was president of Fawcett Publications that owned, among others, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and True magazines.

None of these millionaires made much of an impression on me as a 10-year-old. I shot in squads with them and on rare occasions beat one or two of them.

On many Saturdays, a portly man around 50 years old followed me down the line. When the shooting ended, he always headed for the bar. Everyone referred to him as "Frankie." For some reason, he took a liking to me. He tried to shoot, seldom breaking in the 20s, but he didn't seem to care. He'd just go back to the bar.

One afternoon my dad said to me, "Do you know who that fellow is that likes you so much?" "No, he's just a drunk," I replied. Father said, "Well, he may be now, but he wasn't always. That's Frankie Frisch, one of the best major league ballplayers of all time. He's in the Baseball Hall of Fame."

At the time, I had never heard of Frankie Frisch, but later I found out how famous he was. Known as the "Fordham Flash," he played for the New York Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals in the '20s and '30s. When the Cardinals won the 1934 World Series, Frankie was their player-manager. They were called "The Gashouse Gang ." Obviously, he played baseball better than he could shoot trap.

Once I was in a shootoff at the NYAC for a giant Easter basket filled with Schraft candy in fancy boxes. I don't know if Frankie didn't like the fellow I shot off against or if he just tried to encourage me, but right before we went out on the line, he put his arm around me and gave a big pep talk on how much better I was than the other fellow and how he knew that I'd win. As I look back, he spoke to me like he would to a pinch-hitter in his old baseball days, coming to the plate in a critical situation. Dad said that more than likely he had bet money on me to win. If this was the case, he won, and the Baldwin's ate lots of good chocolates for a long time.

One day in the early 1960s, I received a call at Remington from Gene Porter, our regional manager in Kansas City and a baseball fan like me. The Yankees had just played the Kansas City Athletics (now the Kansas City Royals), and Gene spent some time with a Yankee relief pitcher named Steve Hamilton. A hunter and shooter type, Hamilton expressed interest in shooting some trap at Remington's gun club in Lordship, Conn. During the baseball season, he lived in New Jersey, about an hour from our gun club.

I called Hamilton and invited him to shoot with us at Lordship. He asked if he could bring a couple of other Yankees who liked to shoot as well. Of course I said yes. The two others turned out to be second baseman Bobby Richardson and star pitcher Mel Stottlemyre (now the Yankee pitching coach).

Hamilton and I hit it off right away. A backwards Kentucky boy who loved to shoot trap and talk about shooting, he and I became the best of friends. He often took me into the Yankee locker room, where I met many of the players who were once my boyhood idols.

If I had to pick one special day in my life that I will likely never forget, it would be one day in the spring of 1967, at the Florida State Shoot at the old Cigar City club in Tampa. The gun club wasn't far from where the Yankees held spring training at St. Petersburg. Steve Hamilton and Mel Stottlemyre came over in the morning to watch me shoot, and I got lucky and broke 100. Over lunch they asked if I'd like to see them play an exhibition game that night against Cincinnati. "Maybe, just maybe," they said, "we can arrange to have null you sit in the dugout with us."

Well, I sat in the dugout that night through all nine innings. It happened to be a year Joe DiMaggio was the team's spring training batting coach. At one point during the game, there I sat-a country boy from Connecticut- with DiMaggio on my left and Mickey Mantle to my right. Who said trapshooting doesn't open doors?

In the summer of 1966; Gene Porter and I arranged for many of the Kansas City Athletics to shoot trap at the Remington Gun Club while they were in New York playing the Yankees. Among them was a shy young pitcher from North Carolina who loved to hunt quail. His name was Jim Hunter. A few years later, the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland, and Jimmy Hunter became known as "Catfish" Hunter.

On New Year's Eve 1974, Catfish signed a $3 million, five-year contract to pitch for the Yankees. We became good friends and spent time together on many occasions. He shot trap with me on his off days, and I hunted quail and deer with him on his North Carolina farm during the winter months.

I featured him for two years in Remington Model 3200 magazine ads. In return, he asked for nothing more than a Remington Model 3200 "one of 1,000" serial #27, his uniform number. Our competition would ask me what I paid Catfish to be in our ads. My answers ranged from $1 million to $4 million, and they would say, "Boy, you got a real buy there." Now they know what we really gave him.

In 1979 I took Catfish and a third-string Yankee catcher to the big New York Athletic Club shoot. Catfish joined the ATA and shot in a preliminary 16-yard event. A lot of shooters knew who he was, but the four others in his squad didn't. Two shooters in Jimmy's squad, Lou Bocciarelli and Chuck Tumey of Connecticut, told me later, "We couldn't understand why so many were following our squad from trap to trap. No one was going to break in the 90s, but everyone was watching us."

Catfish Hunter and I remained friends long after he retired from baseball in 1979. I attended his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. I last visited with him in North Carolina in the spring of 1999, shortly before he died at age 53 of Lou Gehrig's disease. Ironically, he died on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1999, and there are nine innings in a baseball game.

I am again living in the old family home where the Babe came to dinner a long time ago. Many of these words were written at the same table we all ate on. Lost forever is the signed baseball he left with me. Our old ball field is still there, but Interstate 84 intersects it at second base. The old folks are gone too. About all that remains are the fading memories of a youngster who once dreamed about playing in the major leagues. It didn't happen, but thanks to trapshooting, I became close to some of those who did.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 08:17