The Veteran of the Yankee Hurling Staff
Robert Shawkey at Thirty?five Is the Oldest Player on the New York Squad and this Season Bids Fair to be Among His Best So Far
An Interview with Bob Shawkey
BASEBALL MAGAZINE July 1926
The oldest player on the Yankee Club is Bob Shawkey. Although he is thirty-five and has reached that age where, according to Grover Alexander, a pitcher begins lose to rather more than he can make good by added experience, Shawkey is still a long way from being through. This season is his fourteenth consecutive year in the Majors and it bids to be among his best.
Certainly the Yankees have made a great beginning. They swept over the prostrate Brooklyn Club in spring?training for twelve straight victories. They tore into the opposition from Opening Day and speedily fought their way to the head of the procession. How long they will stay there is a problem that will be solved only with passing time. But in any case, they made a great beginning.
Much of this impressive showing is laid to a number of recruits who have added speed, dash and pep to the Yankee attack and resourceful agility to the Yankee defense. But the strength of the team rests, as always, upon a terrific batting punch and a rigidly welded pitching machine. And that pitching machine, at least, is almost wholly veteran.
The wiry, rugged strength which has carried Shawkey much further along the road than most pitchers ever reach, was acquired by hard work in his younger years. He was born at Sigel, Pennsylvania, a little hamlet in the woody Alleghenys. When his too meager schooling was completed, he went at once into the woods with a logging gang and at fifteen could swing an ax from six in the morning till six at night for the munificent pay of one dollar and a quarter a day. He worked for three years in the woods, then added another year and a half in the oil and gas region of Pennsylvania. His particular job was dressing tools. It was rather less laborious than life in the woods and offered somewhat more variety.
It was a pal of his on this particular job who persuaded Shawkey to go to school again. He had long had the ambition, but had considered the outlook hopeless. However, he arranged for a term at Slippery Rock Normal School. Here the athletic touch took a decided interest In Shawkey. Years of toil had given him strength and endurance. Although, as he admits, he knew nothing of pitching, he had a great deal of sheer natural ability. Through the efforts of the coach, he was taken on by a little semi?professional team at Bloomsburg, in an obscure Mountain League. This was in the season of 1910. His work at Bloomsburg led him one step higher on the ladder and the following season found him with his first professional job at Harrisburg, in the Tri State League. Here one of Connie Mack's countless scouts tipped off the Athletic leader to a new prospect and Shawkey signed a contract with the Athletics. This was in the spring of 1912. That season, however he spent at Baltimore by agreement with the Athletics and he also began the following season with the Orioles. But in the Iatter part of 1913 he again joined the Athletics and has remained in a Major League uniform ever since.
Those were in the years when the Athetics were considered the most powerful club in baseball. Three great pitchers, Bender, Plank, and Coombs monopolized the public attention. Shawkey was only a rookie. And yet, stories of his great speed were current everywhere. Unfortunately this speed, as is frequently the case in a beginner, was coupled with a tendency to wildness.
Shawkey remained with the Athletics until 1915. It was in this season that Connie Mack set about dismembering his once great machine after their humiliating showing against the Braves in the World's Series of 1914 when they dropped four straight games. One after another of the greatest stars of this machine were scattered while Connie set about the task of rebuilding a new machine; a task, by the way, that was destined to occupy his efforts for many disappointing seasons.
Shawkey was allowed to go to New York during the season of 1915 and has remained with the Yankees ever since.
The War Year, 1918, was a temporary interruption. During that season, according to the records, Shawkey appeared in just three games. This was because he enlisted in the Navy and remained in the Government service for approximately a year.
"The hardest job I ever had," said Shawkey, "was in the Navy Yard at Philadelphia; trying to learn my new job in a hurry. When I had lost a few of the rough corners and had some slight knowledge of what it was alI about, I was assigned to the Battleship 'Arkansas' and sent to the North Sea. There we co?operated with a part of the British Fleet during the final year of the War. It was an interesting experience," said Shawkey, "although I admit I wouldn't like to go through it again. Some things happened, however, that I shall always remember. I was present at the surrender of the German Navy, which was a most impressive sight, I was also present when President Wilson arrived for his famous conference in Europe."
His naval activities brought Shawkey, in addition to some interesting memories, the rather striking nickname of Bob the Gob which has been applied to him at intervals since that date.
Shawkey has taken part in 440 ball games since he donned a Major League, uniform. He has been credited with 184 victories and 143 defeats, a fine record that only a few pitchers now in uniform could improve upon. His best season was somewhat problematical. In 1916, his first real year with the Yankees, he took part in 53 games, won 22 and lost 14. His earned run average was also at its best. This record was unusually good because the Yankees of 1916 had not yet forced their way to the top of the League. Shawkey's work was far better than the team average.
His busiest season, in a way, however, was 1922. During that year be pitched 300 innings, but he did not win as many ball games as he had won in 1916. Last year Shawkey fell below the 50?50 mark for the first time in eight seasons. But this, we might mention in passing, was not his fault. Last year was certainly a melancholy session for the Yankee Ball Club. They disappointed all their followers by not only failing to win a pennant, but by floundering hopelessly into the second division. And much of the season they were perilously near the bottom of the ladder. No pitcher could win with such a disorganized outfit and Shawkey was no exception.
Shawkey broke into the League as a speed ball pitcher with a world of stuff, but changing conditions brought about a complete readjustment of his hurling methods and he is now generally considered a curve ball pitcher, At first he was decidedly wild, but painstaking effort and long practice have given him good control.
"It does not require any great amount of strength to pitch," says Shawkey. "If it did, pitchers, with thin, pipe stem arms like Howard Ehmke or Herb Pennock would never get very far. As it is, they are both fine pitchers with a lot of stuff. Where strength tells is in endurance, more than the ability to pitch an individual game. Some pitchers can undoubtedly stand a lot more work than others, but I doubt even there if brute strength is the telling factor. There have been much stronger pitchers, physically, than Walter Johnson.
"Pitching, to my way of thinking, is first and last a study of the batter and a never ending effort to give him something that be doesn't want. This is much more than merely pitching to his weakness. If you did that all the time, he would at least know what to expect. Knowing where you want to put the ball and being able to put it there, is nine?tenths of pitching science.
"Since I have been with this club," said Shawkey, "I have faced all the opposing teams of the League regularly. I believe the club which has given me most trouble is Detroit. They have a dangerous punch anyway and are likely to cause any pitcher trouble.
"The batters that I face did not rank with me according to their known ability. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, for example, have never bothered me so much as certain other batters. I used to face Babe Ruth when he was a member of the Red Sox, but I had reasonably good luck with him. Elmer Smith, who made a name for himself with Cleveland's pennant?winning team, was the toughest batter I ever faced. I couldn't seem to fool him. He would hit me no matter what I gave him.
"No doubt Babe Ruth would qualify as the most dangerous hitter in the American League. However, I have a wholesome respect for my memory of Ty Cobb when he was in his prime. Ty was not, of course, the slugger that Babe is, but when he was at bat, he certainly gave a pitcher something to occupy his mind, for Ty was not only dangerous in the batter's box, he was doubly dangerous on the bases. He could certainly demoralize an infield more than any other player I ever saw.
"So far," said Shawkey, "I have never had but one sore arm that kept me out of the game for any length of time. Twice I have been injured in pitching. Both times I wrenched a muscle loose in my side. This looks like an uncommon accident, but it happens rather frequently. Usually the pitcher will catch his toe in the hurling slab and make a false motion with disastrous results to his own ribs. Like most players, I have turned my ankle and I have had my fingers split a few times. I got a split finger in. a World's Series game. The catcher threw the ball back with a little more steam than usual and I caught it on the tip of a finger.
"Sometimes a catcher uses good judgment in steaming the ball back to the pitcher. That at least keeps the pitcher on his toes. There are some fellows who need such encouragement. They are likely to be a little lax and careless, particularly if the game appears to be won.
"The managers I have worked for in the 'Major Leagues have given me no trouble, whatever. I greatly admire Connie Mack. He was always thoughtful and considerate. He knew how to handle his men tactfully. And I have always been strong for Miller Huggins. I doubt if the public has ever properly appreciated Hugging. He is not the type that seeks the limelight and many people do not really know him. Huggins is fair at all times. If any player has had trouble with Huggins, it is his own fault. "I have been asked if I considered the present Yankee team the strongest club that I have ever been with. That is a hard question. Time will tell the story. The season is yet very young. We started at a pace that no club could long continue. If we kept at that gait, we would wade right through the League and encounter no worth while opposition. That as every one knows, isn't the situation. There are strong clubs in this League besides the Yankees and it's it long way to October."
Shawkey has never pitched a no?hit game. "I came pretty near to it once," said he. "That was a game I pitched against the White Sox when they were considered the strongest team in the League. I held every man hitless except Red Faber, who opposed me on the mound. Faber was the weakest hitter on the club, one of the weakest hitters in baseball, but he caught one of my fast balls in the eighth inning for a little looping drive just over the third baseman's head, the only hit of the game."
Shawkey's love for the woods leads him every fall on an excursion to the wilds of New Brunswick where he spends a pleasant ten days hunting moose and deer. Usually after this brief vacation, he has worked. Of late years he has taken up insurance and likes the game. Last winter he went to St. Petersburg, like many other ball players, and engaged in real estate operations. He also enjoyed that experience.
Shawkey is a good golf player. "I believe," he says, "the game is a help to a pitcher. Of course, he must use moderation. It stands to reason be shouldn't play golf on the same day that he is scheduled to pitch. Working through a regulation game is exercise enough for one twenty?four hour stretch. On other days, however, a. round of golf is good, light exercise, just about what a pitcher needs. And while I'm not a good enough hitter to pass an expert opinion, I believe it would be good for a batter as well. The golf stroke is enough like a batting stroke to bring the same muscles into play. It's a maxim of baseball to keep your eye on the ball. Surely a golf player must do that. The two games are not rivals, in my opinion. They're good friends and should remain so.
"Fielding is a great help to a pitcher," says Shawkey. "I believe Rommel is the best fielding pitcher in the League, though there are one or two others who would crowd him.
"Hitting is also a. help to a pitcher, but few moundsmen excel. There are exceptions, fellows like Dutch Ruether, who take their regular cut at the ball in practice because they are used every day as pinch hitters. Most pitchers don't do that and they never really get into the proper stride They're pitchers, that's all."
Shawkey is married and plans to make his winter home at St. Petersburg.
"It's surely an ideal climate," he says, "and while I have been and expect to be busy in the winter, what spare time I have can be ideally spent in Florida fishing, swimming and playing golf. All the other exercises common to summer here are all the year round sports at St. Petersburg. Besides, I believe the climate is a good thing for a pitcher. Old veterans like myself are likely to get cold in the pitching arm. A summer climate the year round is built to order for a pitcher."