THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
20th July, 2011 0
I had the good fortune to meet Jim Northrup at a sports show inside the Bay City Mall 10 years ago. As he was signing my ’64 Tiger Yearbook, I asked if I could interview him for a “Review” Magazine story. Jim said “Sure”. After twenty minutes of talking to him I knew I was dealing with a very unique individual. Jim, then 61 years old, didn’t look any worse for wear, and after three separate conversations, I have found him to be intelligent, friendly, and he spoke his mind. Jim possessed a quick wit and a good sense of humor. He was a man who’s very proud of his sports accomplishments, as well he should be. Jim made me feel welcomed from the start, and he listened with sincerity to what I had to say. Simply put, he is a man who, in just a short period of time, was someone I looked upon as a friend.
Jim Northrup – Points of Interest
Jim on race and prejudiced in the South: “I was just a farm boy from Mid-Michigan. I never heard the word nigger until I got into professional baseball. Once in Georgia, Willie Horton told AA Knoxville manager, Frank Skaff: ‘I’m goin’ into that restaurant.’ Skaff said, ‘Willie, you can’t. The rest of the team won’t be served.’ The team convinced Willie, but he was mad as hell. We would bring food back to the black players, and later they had to relieve themselves in the woods. The Tiger players that were black had to live in the ghetto during spring training. When I was playing college ball for Alma, we went to Macon, GA for a game. There we were driven to the ball game by members from the other team. One told me as we passed a cemetery, ‘That’s a white cemetery.’ I asked, ‘you have white and black cemeteries?’ He told me, ‘yes we do, but most of the niggers don’t make it to theirs. We just throw’m in the river.’ In Macon, if I were walking on a sidewalk towards a black man, the black man had to go across the street to walk. The blacks only went to the back door of businesses; they couldn’t try on clothes in clothing stores. They had to eat off of different china than we did. They had separate water fountains and bathrooms. Black players for the Tigers carried knives in their back pockets when we played ball down south for good reason. I visited an opposing player’s home after a game in Georgia. His dad had his Klan outfit proudly hanging from his coat tree.”
I asked my Jim Northrup, what he thought about Paul Hornung’s statement, “Notre Dame should lower their academic standards for black athletes so they (Notre Dame) can compete better with the likes of the Big Ten.”
Jim, who has two adopted black girls, told me, “Paul should’ve said just ‘athletes.’ I went to a basketball game last week and my friend said, ‘Look at that black 6’11” center.’ I told him I could see he’s black. My daughter asked me one night if she was Afro-American. I said no. You’re Afro and you’re American, but you’re not an Afro-American. Why a race of people want to honor African chieftains who marched their own people into the ocean and to their deaths when they refused to get on a ship to be sold into slavery, I will never understand. I told my 10-year old daughter if someone wants to know your color, you could tell them you are brown. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. It’s not your color, but your character. Also this family’s proud just to be Americans.”
THE DETRIOT TIGERS OWN BABE RUTH CALLED SHOT STORY:
9/24/66 the night before the Tigers partied too hardy. As the hung over group was discussing the game at hand, Dave Wickersham expressed his doubts. (The contest was at 10:30 am because it was football Saturday in Minneapolis.) Norm Cash had a Babe Ruth moment. He told “Wick”: “I will win it for ya at noon.” As the stadium clock struck 12:00 noon, Norm slammed his 30 home run of the season into the right field bleachers to give the Tigers the lead. The 3-run homer helped Detroit to an 8-1 win over the Twins. Jim Northrup, who didn’t play that game, told me the story. (I looked up the box score – It did happen.)
12/6/04 Jim Northrup, commenting on steroids: “170-175 pounders are suddenly hitting 50 plus homers a year. Bonds and McGwire gained 40 to 50 pounds of muscle and there helmets didn’t fit anymore. People in San Francisco were sitting in boats out in the water waiting for baseballs. Barry Bonds belted out over 250 home runs in five years after age 36 by rubbing cream on his arms. Please! This isn’t rocket science here. Steroids are nothing new. The owners always knew about it. They built smaller parks and wanted longer homers, which meant more money. It’s always about the money. They do not care about the integrity of the game or the players’ health. It’s been about the money and always will be. Barry is still lying because he doesn’t want to lose the accolades. He is no Willie Mays and never will be.”
I asked Jim Northrup his thoughts. “Steroids are illegal in baseball, but the owners choose to look the other way because home runs are good for the game and for the dollars. Baseball doesn’t want to catch the users. It would have been quite the temptation for me, if it were available back when I played. With steroids I could have maybe increased my strength and jumped my salary from $40,000 to $125,000. Now that’s a lot of money back then.” “I probably would have taken it to earn more money, but I would have had my blood tested to see if I were endangering my health. I most likely would have used it for a few years. I would not take it today if I were playing. There’s so much money out there. It’s not necessary. Excessive use of steroids is like putting a gun to your head. Your liver goes to pot and it can ruin your health for life. It’s really not worth the risk. Steroids build muscle mass, but they don’t strengthen the ligaments and cartilages, therefore creating the rash of injuries baseball deals with today.”
Richard: What was your dad like?
Jim: “Have you ever seen the Jimmy Piersall story? That was my dad. There were times when I thought his one single mission in life was to have me be a professional baseball player. Dad wanted to play ball around mid-Michigan for a living in the farm leagues, but it didn’t pay enough. He had to drive a bread truck instead to put food on the table for his wife and three kids. My dad lived vicariously through me. I eventually had to tune him out.” The first time I met Jimmy Piersall,: “Jimmy watched me field fly balls in practice (year 1965) and later came over to talk to me. He said, “Hey kid with my brains and your legs I’d be super star.” Northrup came back with, “I don’t need your brains or ability, I already have them, but I can see you could sure use my legs.” “Jimmy laughed like hell – he was half nuts you know?”
“Jimmy Piersall, like myself, pressed hard in our young lives. We both, I believe, sought our father’s approval. I later learned to calm down and let the talent through. Even in my last year of baseball in Baltimore I hit .571 as a pinch hitter. I wish I would have looked at the game a little differently in the beginning.” (Jim’s dad drank too much in life and it led to his divorce. Jim’s mom was stuck with all the bills. She worked three jobs to pay all of them off.
Richard: “Jim, what was it like playing for Tiger G.M. Jim Campbell?”
Jim: “The Detroit Tigers were the last major league team to go into knit uniforms. Jim Campbell wanted his ballplayers to look like gentlemen – no long hair or mustaches. George Steinbrenner demanded the same respect for the game from his New York Yankees. Campbell also liked the old wool uniforms as they were traditionally worn. I went to Jim in 1970 and said, “Jim its 85 to 90 degrees in the locker room and 109 degrees in the dugout and these wool uniforms make it miserable as hell. It’s not like were sitting in your air-conditioned office. Campbell said he didn’t want his ballplayers in tight shirts and pants like Frank Robinson with long stirrup socks. Jim, “Campbell gave in and said he’d order them his way and he did by making every uniform one to two inches bigger then necessary. So we countered by having all our wives and girlfriends alter them back to sizes that fit us. Campbell couldn’t figure that on out and we all got a kick out of it.”
Richard: “Jim, what do you do with your spare time?”
Jim: “I work with charities around Detroit and one of my favorites is the Miracle League. Miracle League makes it possible for disabled children to play basball. We have kids in wheel chairs, blind boys and girls, and young cancer patients. They all get equal time and a chance to play. Each team and each player wins in every game. The field is cushioned synthetic turf and the foul lines are painted on, every precaution is taken to keep them safe from harm. We’ve recently built a $700,000 stadium in Detroit and Atlanta, who has over 79,000 disabled children, they built a one and a half million-dollar complex. I went to my trusty computer and found out 35 fields were under construction and the Miracle Leagues goal is 500 plus by the end of 2005. Their motto “Every Child Deserves A Chance to Play Baseball.” (Jim also raised money for Polish Orphanages. In Poland he adopted Kamil, from a poor farmer who couldn’t afford surgery for his son. Jim brought him back to American and gave him a life saving surgery stomach operation.)
AFTER GAME TIGERS
Jim: “We all partied, but we were not party animals. It would not be unusual to see 25 to 30 teammates on road trips all in the same bar. We did a lot together and we were friends. We mostly partied when a day off followed. We never used drugs. If I ever had 12 beers in an evening I would always stop if a game were 12 hours away. We did not show up hungover or drunk to play.”
Richard: John Hiller told me he once danced with you in Baltimore.
Jim: “I danced with Joe Coleman and Eddie Brinkman, too. We got a little crazy. After a few pops we’d pick the biggest, ugliest guy in the bar, and ask him onto the dance floor just to get a reaction. It was all done in fun. We were all like family.”
“We had one gala party to start the 1967 season. Ray Olyer became so gala at this party that he had to be carried out feet first on the eve of his debut as Detroit’s regular shortstop. In spite of this, he still managed to go hitless. Ray’s batting average in ’68 was .135. Drinking did take its toll. Ray died of a heart attack at age 42. Joe Sparma died of a heart attack at age 44. Don McMahon died of a heart attack at age 57. Mayo Smith died of a stroke in 1977. John Hiller survived a heart attack at age 27. Norm Cash fell off the end of a dock on 10/11/86 and drowned at Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. He was 51. For some ’68 Tigers it was wine, women, and a short retirement. Also passed: Pat Dobson 64, Earl Wilson 70, John Wyatt 63 and Bob Christian 28 from Leukemia.
Jim: “The problem is that after their careers were over, it didn’t stop for some of the guys. They didn’t have the games to give them a release anymore. Hell, some of them played better because they drank. But we had some people who struggled with alcoholism the rest of their lives. It killed them eventually. They couldn’t adjust.”
Northrup humor: I asked Jim if he had a copy of the ’68 World Series video. Jim: “I lent it to someone but I never got it back. What I like best about watching that video is we win every single time.”
Richard: If you were 20 years old again, how would you fair in major league baseball and what would you do differently?
Jim: “Better. Talent is thin especially in pitching. If you combined the American and National Leagues today you’d have the equivalent of AAA pitching in the late 60’s. If I were playing today, I’d work out year around.”
Richard: If baseball were not a part of your life, what else would you have wished to do.”
Jim: “Become a surgeon.” (Jim went back to Alma to get his degree when his playing career concluded.
Richard: Should Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson be in the Hall of Fame?
Jim: “Shoeless Joe, yes. I would not vote for Pete because he knew the rules and chose to break them. It would set a bad example to our youth.” (Jackson’s Chicago White Sox teammate George Uhle: “Joe was too dumb to get involved in that. He didn’t get into it. He really didn’t. He wasn’t smart. I mean they may have talked to him about it and all, but it didn’t sink in. He didn’t try to do anything to lose.”)
Richard: What Tigers should be in the Hall of Fame?
Jim: “Billy Rogell, Alan Trammel, and Lou Whitaker. Vida Pinson, Gene Autry and Marvin Miller should also be in the HOF. Vida played 18 seasons, hit .286 with 1,170 RBI’s – was 2-time All-Star.” Lou Whitaker didn’t make the minimum voting requirement on his first Hall of Fame ballot. He only got 2.91% of the vote, so he’s disqualified from future voting. Jim Northrup: “There’s something wrong with the Hall of Fame system when they can eliminate a Lou Whitaker on his first ballot. His stats alone should have gotten him in. Lou should not be left out because of his relationship with the press. ‘Hal’ Newhouser never got along with the press either, but had H.O.F. stats. It took Ernie Harwell's long and hard labor to finally get Hal recognized and accepted. Lou Whitaker was very good. If you had men on base you’d love to have Trammel or Whitaker coming to the plate.”
Richard: What’s Jim Northrup’s 1964-1975 American League all-star Team?
Jim: “1B-Eddie Murray, 2B-Rod Carew, SS-Cal Ripken, 3B-Brooks Robinson, OF-Hank Aaron, OF-Mickey Mantle, OF-Al Kaline, LHP-Whitey Ford, RHP-Nolan Ryan, C-Bill Freehan.” (Bill was one of the top fielding catcher in baseball history - .993) Manager – Earl Weaver (1480-1060, .583)
Richard: Jim Northrup’s all-time Hall of Fame lineup?
Jim: “1B-Hank Greenberg, 2B-Charlie Gehringer, SS-Cal Ripken, 3B-Brooks Robinson, OF-Mickey Mantle, OF-Willie Mays, OF-Ted Williams, LHP-Sandy Koufax, RHP-Cy Young, C-Ivan Rodriguez, (baseball’s best catcher).”
Richard: Who were the best fielding outfielders you’ve seen during your career? Was Jimmy Piersall among the best?
Jim: “Piersall was great as were Al Kaline, Paul Blair, Roberto Clemente, Flood, and Stanley.”
Richard: What legacy did Jim Northrup want to impart to his family, friends, and to baseball?
Jim: “I gave it all I had, and I played to win. Winning was my objective. Not the money or the stats.” (Jim once said, “I was there to win. I was there to kick your butt. Winning is everything. I hated to lose. That was my dad.)
Jim’s thoughts on people:
Al Kaline: “One of the best defensive players ever. Al was not much of a conversationalist. He was very introverted.” (Kaline won 10 golden gloves in 11 years. He was the youngest to ever play in a MLB All-Star game at 20 years, six months.)
Mickey Lolich: “Great competitor. I was very happy he was a teammate, thus I never had to face him. Mickey was put into active duty with the National Guard during the ’67 riots. Mickey said ‘In ’67, when you seen four kids gathered at a street corner, you knew it could lead to trouble. When you’d see four on the corner in ’68, it was a good bit they were listening to the Tigers on a transistor radio.’”
Manager Mayo Smith: “One of the nicest people you could meet. It was a pleasure to play for Mayo and his coaches. Mayo knew his limitations. He stayed out of the way and let the players play.”
Earl Wilson: “Great competitor. We stole him from Boston.” (He was traded for Don Demeter.)
Billy Martin: “I had no respect for him. He was dishonest and a user. Martin was a huckster and a manipulator of the press and fans. After the first year, he would blame players for every defeat and he lost the respect of his players. We had a meeting in ’72 and decided to win in spite of him. He was paranoid and schizophrenic. He was threatened by anyone who was a college grad. He was flat plain ignored in 1972.” Someone once said Billy was his own worst enemy, I said no he wasn’t, I was.” Billy Martin is buried 30 yards from Babe Ruth, I’ve been there. One game after a tough loss, Billy Martin stormed into the Tiger locker room and said he would leave the door to his office open, and if anyone wanted to fight him, he would kick their ass. Jim didn’t hear the challenge. So Willie Horton came over and told him, “Jim, here’s your chance.” Jim thought it over and replied, “No, I’m not going to give him the satisfaction to see management trade me. I’d pound him and I’d be gone.” Later that night the players were at a bar drinking when Martin came in and sat down alone. Gates Brown got up slowly, walked over to Billy’s table, and took a seat. Gator: “Billy, if you do that again, I’m gonna have to kill ya. And I will kill ya.” Martin never threatened again.
Denny McLain: “For two years he was the best pitcher I ever saw. He had great confidence and control. Denny’s still my friend, but we had our differences. Once during a card game between ball games of a double header, Denny pulled money out of my pot – he was even crooked back then - I told him not to do it again. After the second time, I went after him. Gates Brown stopped it by putting me in a bear hug and said ‘You can’t kill him now, Jim. Wait till we win it all, then we will all kill him.’ I’d visit Denny now (Denny went to prison for stealing millions from his company’s pensionfund.) but if I went there, I’m afraid they might keep me, too. Denny was overused and the cortisone shots he took to relieve his pain weakened his muscles and ended his pitching career early. Sandy Koufax ended the same way.”
Bob Gibson: “Best pitcher I faced in the ’68 World Series and for one year.” (Bob’s ERA was 1.12 in ’68. 17 World Series strikeouts in game one – a record – 251 career wins and 3,117 career strikeouts.)
Dick McAuliffe: “Extremely competitive. A class guy and a winner.”
Gates Brown: “Best pinch hitter ever. He was smart and a very good coach. He was the hitting coach for the ’84 Tigers. Gator knew his baseball.”(avg .462 as a pinch hitter in ’68)
Willie Horton: “Good friend. More like a brother. Great competitor and he was very strong.”
Roger Maris, and should he be in the Hall of Fame? “A very good all around player.
Jim Northrup after facing Bob Gibson in game one of the 1968 World Series: “We couldn’t hardly touch him. I’d never faced Gibson before and when he comes at you with that stuff, it’s amazing! He was throwing BB’s, and he had some of the nastiest breaking stuff I’ve faced. I faced Nolan Ryan in no hitters, but I don’t think I’ve ever faced anybody on one given day who could so completely overmatch an entire team of fastball hitters. That’s what we were, and Bob Gibson just overmatched us completely. There wasn’t any human being alive who could have hit him. He really came at you hard and strong. It was you against him. He liked to pitch fast. He didn’t like it if you stepped out on him and held him up. He wanted to get the ball and throw it. Mclain was like that, too. He and Mclain would pitch, and if you let them, they’d probably pitch a one hour game between them, every time out.”
Richard: Jim, I certainly think you deserve a highlight film.
Jim: “Thanks. Did you know when we were down three games to one in the series Sports Illustrated gave us up for dead and left for the Olympics in Mexico? After we won, the Tigers didn’t even get the cover shot. I’m still pissed off at them.” Richard, “Jim, What did you get paid for winning that World Series as a player?”
Jim: “ For winning the 1968 World Series, the Tigers each received an extra $8,300 after taxes. The paper boy cashed my series check for me.
Richard: What did you make in ’64 with Detroit?
Jim: “$6,000 a year. Take it or leave it. If you don’t want it, quit. It was a one way contract.” You also had to put money down for your uniform. At the end of the year, you would get the money back. Once at spring training, the general manager, Jim Campbell, and the owner, John Fetzer, asked me what I thought about the players having a choice to handle their own pension money. I said, ‘Both of you know this is illegal. It always has been. You should stop talking bullshit and be fair on this issue. Because if you don’t, it’s going to up and bite you in the ass one of these days.’” As Jim loves to tell it, “We were once the tail. Now the tail wags the dog.” (Jim made $8,000 in 1965, $24,000 in 1968 and $73,000 in Montreal in 1974.)
Richard: Did Al Kaline really turn down a $100,000-a-year contract in 1971?
Jim: “Yes, Jim Campbell came up to Al after he had just signed McLain and Lolich to $100,000 contracts and told Al, ‘I’m giving you $105,000 because the pitchers are going to be making $100,000.’ Al: “I couldn’t take it because I didn’t feel like I should be a $100,000 ball player. I hadn’t had what I considered a good year in 1970. I felt they were just giving me the $100,000 because I’d been around so long.” Al’s season in 1970: 467 at bats, .278 B.A., 16 HR’s, 71 R.B.I’s. In today’s baseball, that would be about a $4 million season. (Al signed for $95,000) This will never happen again in professional baseball.”
Richard: What are your thoughts on Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods?
Jim: “Michael was very good. He was a winner. But so were Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Doc J. Tiger Woods right now is totally focused. But when Woods gets a girlfriend, then a wife and kids, let’s see if he can continue to dominate with new and different priorities in his life. Golfers Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are two very special athletes. They were able to balance a family, business, and their sport successfully. Very few have ever been able to accomplish that at such a high level.” (Ask Tiger today.) In 1968 Jim Northrup and Al Kaline campaigned with and for Richard Nixon. Jim: “He knew more about my stats than I did. He was a big time sports fan.”.
Richard: Jim, where do you stand politically?
Jim: "We need a third party for an honest and fresh approach to government. But this ain’t’ happenin’. You can’t compete against the other two parties when they’re getting $50,000 for a cup of coffee.” The Democratic party is for big government, national health care, overtaxing the rich, and they cow down to the unions.” “Every country that has gone to welfare has fastly disappeared from the successful world. You can’t have 5% of the people paying 95% of the taxes. It’s not that high now, but it’s heading in that direction. Welfare has not helped the black man. Race relations have been reversed in some areas of our society. Detroit’s Mayor Coleman Young and the Rainbow Coalition’s Jesse Jackson have done nothing to help unify this country. Jackson wears $1,000 silk suits, makes millions. What does he do? He hasn’t worked a day in his life. It’s amazing. The Jewish people have been persecuted for time eternal, lost six million in WWII, but still make a success of their lives. They own many of the TV and radio stations, and some of the movie industry, and many are lawyers. They’re now in control of what happens to themselves. America’s the greatest country on earth, and it always has been, but it could use some viable changes.”
Richard: What were your thoughts on winning the World Series?
Jim: “1968 was so great for us… and maybe it’s something that outsiders don’t understand. But that group all knew each other for 10 years. When you accomplish something with your best friends, it makes it that much sweeter. That was the satisfaction, the thing that bonded us so closely, and still does today.” “And it will never happen again. That’s the sad part. It’s unusual for one guy to now stay with a team for 10 years.” (GM Jim Campbell in 1968: “The biggest thing about this World Series win is the fact so many of these kids were developed by ourselves.” Owner John Fetzer: “We built from within.” "We should have won it in 1967, but we didn’t. We lost on the last day of the season in ’67 and in ’68 we decided we were going to win it. We were like family. We barbecued together with our wives and kids. We partied together. When we had problems, we talked to each other. Hell, we even loaned each other money when things got tight – although we’d run the other way when McLain came along. Denny always said he needed the money to by a little something for his wife. But it wasn’t a loan with him. I was more like a gift.” (Denny sold stock in a paint company to his teammates, the company didn’t exist.)
Jim on leaving baseball: “It’s a very lonely existence being on the road away from your family so much.” “I spent too much time away from home and the game wasn’t worth it that much. I’d like to think there’s more to life than playing baseball.” Jim Northrup on Ty Cobb: “He was tough, but that was old time baseball. Few were married (in his era), there was no money, and you played then because you loved the game.” Jim in 2007 drove to Midland to broadcast a game because I asked him. He did a great job. Thirty five Midland, Bay City and Saginaw pro baseball players were honored by myself and management.
TED WILLIAMS PUT ON ICE
Jim Northrup: “Ted Williams was my idol and my hero. Ted’s kid is a derelict. He had his dad signing balls on his deathbed. This kid couldn’t make enough money to get arrested. On DNA, all you need is the hair, not the whole body. Freezing the body might make sense if you had something that couldn’t be corrected today. Science might find the answer years later, roll you out, unfreeze ya, and correct it. The freezing should be done before you die to make it effective. I think Tiger owner John Fetzer did it.” Ted’s daughter was going to court to stop the freezing of dad, but Henry won out because he had more money to carry out the case. Ted’s kid then died early, he’s now hanging next to Ted. Jim Northrup was on the on-deck circle when Dave Winfield threw at a seagull in Toronto and killed it during a pre-game warm up.
Jim’s Funeral 6/15/2011: The Parlor opened with the song by Louie Armstrong, “What a Wonderful Life”. In Attendance: Paul Carey, Denny McLain (300 plus pounds), Mickey Lolich, Mike and Marion Illitch, Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan, John Wardon and Mickey Stanley. The Pastor Rev. Jack Baker opened with: “I bet you probably didn’t know that Jim was Catholic.” He paused and said, “He didn’t know it either.” To the right of Jim’s flowers was a note by his adopted 11 year old daughter. “Loving Father, James Northrup. Jim was my dad and was a great man and he will be in my heart forever. He was a hero to me and if you loved him like I do you would feel the same way. He will always be in our hearts. May God be with him.” Signed Azaria .
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)