Placing a call to a baseball great. Ex-Giants batting star Bill Terry still speaks his mind
BILL TERRY was the last man to hit .400 in the National League. (Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 in the American.) Terry batted .401 in 1930. Arky Vaughan hit .385 in 1935, and since then no one has come close in the senior circuit. Arky fell out of a rowboat in 1952 and drowned. Bill is still running his Buick agency in Jacksonville, Fla. I picked up the phone and talked to him the other day. ``Bill,'' I asked, ``how are you?''
``Fine,'' he replied, ``except for a bad knee that makes me walk with a cane. But I'm not about to have some fellow cut on it. Not at my age. Say,'' and his voice rose, ``do you know I'm 87?''
I told him I did know he was approaching 88 on Oct. 30, that I had looked him up in the book, and further that I wondered if he was still going to his office.
``I get to the office five days a week by 7:30. I get up at 5:30, have breakfast, attend to business, and go home around noon. I got the agency in 1949 and it's been good to me all these years.''
He told me his wife had passed on four years ago. Bill has always been a devoted family man. I knew he must be lonely.
``Of course I'm lonely,'' he said. ``I miss my wife very much. But I have three sons, and two of them live here in Jacksonville. I have a daughter and she lives here, too. I have nine grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. You ought to see this house on Christmas.''
Terry came up to the New York Giants and manager John McGraw in 1923 and played through 1936. His lifetime batting average was .341. McGraw was a terrible tyrant with a profane tongue. Terry, however, took nothing from him, and the last two years McGraw was the manager they didn't speak.
June 3, 1932, McGraw sent for Terry. ``I'm going to resign as manager,'' McGraw said, ``I'm offering you the job. Think about it overnight and let me know tomorrow.''
``I don't have to think about it,'' Terry said. ``I'll take it.'' That's Terry.
He managed the Giants through 1941, won three pennants and a World Series. He not only played and managed, but was also the general manager. He ran it all. That's Terry -- if he's going to do something he'll be the boss.
Bill has always been a working churchman. Once he sang in the choir. Shortly after he came to Jacksonville his small Episcopal church needed major repairs. The rector was discouraged. Terry said he'd get the money. He borrowed $100,000 and got the work started. Then he borrowed another $125,000. I asked him if he was chairman of the building committee. ``No,'' he said, ``I was the committee.'' That's Terry.
Shortly after Terry took over from McGraw, a New York writer asked him for his home phone number so if a story broke during the evening he could call him for a quote. Terry said no, that his home phone was private, that he was at the ballpark before, during, and after the game, but when he went home that was his own life. He meant it. His home life has always been strictly his.
This refusal to give out his home phone caused some New York writers to paint Terry as a cold, selfish, and inconsiderate man. When I came to Cincinnati in 1934 as a rookie announcer I was warned to stay away from him, that he didn't like radio people, that he was rough, and would give me a bad time.
The Giants came to Crosley Field. Despite the warning, I went to the Giants' clubhouse. I had never seen the Giants and I needed to know as much about them as I could. I knocked on the door. The clubhouse man opened it and asked what I wanted. I told him I was a radio announcer and I wanted to see Mr. Terry.
A voice inside the clubhouse said, ``Let him in.'' That was Terry. He was putting on his uniform. As he finished dressing for the game he ran down his team, player by player. He told me all I needed to know and then some. When he finished he walked me to the door and said, ``Whenever you want to know something about my team, come to me, I'll tell you.'' That was Terry.
``Bill,'' I said, ``do you miss baseball . . . do you miss managing?''
He didn't hesitate. That is Terry.
``No, I don't miss baseball. I'm glad I'm out of it. The last time I was at Cooperstown, I was talking with Jim Campbell of the Detroit club. Jim said to me, `Bill, you couldn't manage in baseball today. You ran your team, did everything, called all the shots. You can't do that today. Today the players have a union, there is free agency, there are agents, there is too much money!' ''
Terry went on. He has always spoken his mind. That is Terry.
``I never liked night games and wouldn't play them if I could help it. The designated hitter is terrible . . . it's not baseball . . . you can't maneuver your pitchers with the pitchers never batting. There are too many games . . . the season runs into football. I don't know how the clubs are going to pay all the money they owe certain players.''
Then he switched subjects. ``Red, you should be at my house at Christmas.'' That is Terry.