|Bobby Hoeft saw Mays in a
different uniform in 1953.
This week, I’m sharing treasures from the memory vault of Bobby Hoeft, author of When Baseball Was Fun and publisher of Detroit Tigers Quarterly.
Q: In the Navy, what player impressed you most?
A: “In 1953 I was playing with the Norfolk Navy Flyers. We played against some great baseball players including Dick Groat, Johnny Antonelli and many more but the one player, who, incidentally also played center field, was the incomparable WILLIE MAYS. He was electric, amazing, and yet very humble.
We were playing them at Fort Eustis in Virginia when he made a defensive gem which was even better than his 1954 World Series catch against VIC WERTZ of the Indians at the Polo Grounds. This play was made just one year earlier on Bobby Jo Graham, our big catcher. Graham smashed a 450 foot fast ball out into the darkness beyond the left field light poles. Everything was in play out there because there were no fences.
Bobby Jo was into his home run trot while Mays was busy stationing himself in left field while the left fielder was chasing down the ball. The ball suddenly comes flying out of the darkness and Willie Mays is now catching the ball and twisting into throwing position while Graham is innocently jogging between 3rd and home plate.
From our dugout we could see what was happening and began screaming ‘RUN BOBBY JO, RUN!’ But to no good. Willie had unleashed a missile that never touched the ground. It was by far the greatest throw ever made in the history of baseball! AND BOBBY JO WAS OUT.”
Coming Friday: Remembering Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell.
Becoming part of a budding World Championship club. Being teammates with Hall of Famers Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron.
Nevertheless, pitcher Charlie Gorin counts his time with the Milwaukee Braves as forgotten.
In a fascinating reply, Gorin started from the beginning of an eventful career and life:
Your questions take me back a number of years. After getting out of the Navy, Aug. 8, 1946, I attended the Univ. of Texas. There I tried out for baseball and made the team. So baseball lasted for me from 1947-61. That’s a long time to remember in detail a lot of my experiences — for me, anyway.
I played four years in college — signed with the Braves in 1950. Played two years before being called back into the Navy. I served this time in the Naval School of Pre-Flight in Pensacola, Fla. Then went back to baseball again in 1954 with Braves (Mil.)
I did play baseball this tour of duty as well as instructing classes in swimming, water survival, pistol range and conditioning work.
My playing time was so limited with the Braves I actually have forgotten about it. Most of my playing was in the Minor Leagues during which I had some good years. Five pennant-winning teams and eight All-Star teams.
I really can’t say which players went into education back then. At that time, baseball leagues went from Major Leagues, AAA, AA, A, B, C and D. I never heard of any instructional league at that time. If you were playing well, no manager wanted to mess you up.
I enjoyed my years in baseball and look back to some good times and friends. In high school here in Austin, I coached baseball and football for 20 years then went into administration — ass’t principal.
That’s about it for now. Your letter did take me back and think of some good times and good friends.
Tomorrow: The ORIGINAL Frank Thomas, home-grown 1950s Pirates slugger, talks of raising money for his favorite charities through autograph signing.