An Interview with Lum Harris
(Editor’s note: Local baseball historian Harrington “Kit” Crissey published two volumes of interviews with big league ballplayers in World War II baseball, entitled Teenagers, Graybeards and 4-F’s. The second volume, copyrighted in 1982, featured American League players. Kit has kindly given us permission to reprint from time to time his interviews with some of the wartime Athletics. The first one, in the words of righthanded pitcher Lum Harris, follows. Harris was 35-63 in six years in the American League and later spent eight years as a manager with Baltimore, Houston, and Atlanta.)
“Mr. Mack bought me from the old Atlanta Crackers at the end of the 1940 season. I stayed with the A’s from 1941 until the middle of the 1944 season when I was inducted into the Navy. Most of my service time was spent in Honolulu. After the war I returned to Philadelphia for the 1946 season.
First of all let me say this: I’m one of the many players who are proud to say that they played for a fellow like Mr. Mack, the grand old man of baseball. I enjoyed every minute of being with him and the A’s with the exception of one thing – we weren’t in the thick o’ nuthin’ but last place. This was due to the fact that Mr. Mack had sold his great players during and immediately after the depression in order to continue operating the club. He was rebuilding, and we were in last place. We finished in a tie for fifth one year, but the rest of the time we were in the cellar.
“1944 was one of my better years with the A’s. I beat the White Sox, 4-3, for my tenth win of the year before going into the service. The other players knew I was leaving. Led by my good friend, Bobo Newsom, they gave me a Navy duffel bag stuffed with a hundred one dollar bills. I went home that night and dumped all those bills on the bed so my young son and daughter could see them. We had a ball counting ‘em. The next day Bobo went to Mr. Mack and told him what the players had done. Mr. Mack said, ‘Look, I was going to take care of him long before you thought about it.’ So the next morning I went in to see Mr. Mack before I left. He paid me up through the rest of the season and gave me an extra five-hundred dollars as a going-away present, which I appreciated.
“There is no doubt that the ball got deader as the war went on. I remember Rudy York hit a drive in Shibe Park one day that ordinarily would have been on the roof, but the left fielder actually had to come in to make the catch. I think the hides were green. They had trouble getting them and didn’t have enough time to cure them. The balls would turn yellow during the game. It certainly was a deader ball than before or after the war.
“The shortage of veteran players had its advantages and disadvantages. Some players were up there who wouldn’t have made it in peacetime. I consider the one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, a good example of this type of player. Many fellows had already been sent down to Triple-A ball but came back up because of the war. On the other hand, there were many good players who got a chance to prove their worth because of the shortage and stayed in the majors after the war.
“You asked about catcher Charley George hitting the umpire at home plate in 1945. I’m sure it did occur although I wasn’t there. Knowing ‘Greek’ George, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything he might do. We played against each other in the Southern League when I was with Atlanta and he was with Nashville and a couple of other clubs. Larry Gilbert of Nashville sold him to three different major league clubs in three different years, and the clubs sent him back each time. He was a high-strung boy but not a bad fellow. I liked ‘the Greek’ all right. He was a good lookin’ ballplayer but let his temper get out of control at times. He got into many scraps in the Southern League; in fact, throughout his baseball career.
“I think Jittery Joe Berry got his nickname from something other than his pickoff move. Jittery Joe pitched two fine years for us, winning eighteen games in relief. That’s a pretty good record as far as I’m concerned. Jittery was a high-strung, funny boy from Little Rock. He’d never get on the scales to see how much he weighed. He was a very thin fellow who weighed only about 135 pounds. During a game he’d take out after a baserunner; he’d run from the mound right toward him. I remember one day Lou Boudreau was on third base, about ten feet off the bag, and Joe just left the mound and ran directly at him. Evidently Boudreau kind of froze, and he had to dive to get back to the bag safely. But really, his move to the bases was no different from that of anyone else. He got his nickname from his temperament, not his pickoff move. I remember another incident involving Berry. We were playing an exhibition game in Atlantic City. The bases were loaded with the score tied in the last inning, and Jittery was on the mound. He went into a big, long windup and suddenly a gust of ocean wind came up and blew him right off the mound, causing him to balk and lose the game!
“The A’s trained in Frederick, Maryland, in ’44, and we got snowed out of a few games. I don’t think any pitcher hurled more than six innings. Mr. Mack decided he would pitch us three innings apiece at the start of the season, just like in spring training. So what happened? I had the opening-day assignment in Washington and pitched ten innings in a tie game before I was taken out for a pinch hitter. A few days later Bobo Newsom pitched a five-hit complete game in the Shibe Park opener against Boston. It was tough, but anything is better than a war.”