Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jim Bagby, Jr.

I wrote a long article for the Newport Plain Talk that was published in three parts shortly before the 2007 World Series; this is the third of the three parts to be published. For my latest research and full details, see James Charles Jacob Bagby Jr. in my Family File.

James Charles Jacob Bagby, Jr., was the son of Jim Bagby and his wife Mabel Margaret Smith, the latter being a native of Newport, Tennessee. He was born 8 September 1916 in Cleveland, Ohio, while his father was playing for the Cleveland Indians.

Jim Bagby, Jr.

From a young age, Jim was coached by his father to be a pitcher. Even in 1934, his father said, “I’m sure he’s headed for the majors. He’s a great prospect. He has control and confidence, his curve ball is as good as mine was, and he’d rather play baseball than eat.”1

Jim Jr. played with the Dixie Amateur League in the summer of 1934, winning ten and losing five for Montgomery, and he would soon be playing in the minor leagues, first for Charlotte in 1935, Rocky Mount in 1936, and then Hazelton in 1937. For Hazelton, he won twenty-one games and lost eight, with a 2.71 ERA in the New York-Penn League .2

His performance did lead him to the majors, playing first for the Boston Red Sox in 1938. Expectations were high given his famous father, and some writers suggested that expectations might be too high given his famous father, as many sons had not been able to live up to their fathers’ legends.3

In fact, though, Jim performed quite admirably in that first year, winning more than his well-known teammate Lefty Grove. As a rookie, he was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox opening game, a rare honor not given again to another rookie by the Red Sox until 1998.4 Jim was a sensation in the first season but was used primarily as a relief pitcher in the next two seasons, 1939 and 1940.

In 1940, he was still playing for the Red Sox and was a part of an event that still inspires baseball trivia questions: the one game in which Ted Williams pitched.5 During the first game of a double header that the Red Sox were losing badly to Detroit, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin wanted to rest his pitching staff, calling Williams in from left field to pitch and sending the pitcher out to left field; that pitcher was Jim Bagby, Jr. Also that year, he became the first of only three pitchers to date to be credited with three put-outs in an single inning.

Before the next season, as part of a major trade involving several players among three teams, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, joining the team for which both his father and uncle had played.6 He would play for Cleveland for several years, and he was picked as an all-star in 1942 and 1943, leading the American League in starts both years.

In 1941, his first year for the Indians, Jim once again was an integral part of a legendary game. Joe DiMaggio had managed a hit in fifty-six consecutive games, still a record today. One of those hits, his twenty-eighth, had been off Jim Bagby. But, more importantly, Jim Bagby was on the mound when the streak ended. Starting pitcher Al Smith and finishing pitcher Jim Bagby, with some help from the infield, held DiMaggio hitless on July 18, 1941.

World War II posed many problems for baseball, with many players serving in the armed forces and many others working in war industries during the off season; Jim, for instance, was a tool designer for Bell Aircraft in Marietta.7 Some biographers note that Jim served as a Merchant Marine in 1944 and, as a result, missed most of the season. Press coverage at the time, though, presents a more complicated picture.

Lou Boudreau was a premier shortstop for the Indians, having made his major league debut with them in 1938. In fact, it was he who fielded the last ground ball that DiMaggio hit, in his last at-bat, in the game where the streak was broken. He was named player/manager of the Indians in 1942, causing considerable friction as some other players who had applied for the position quit the team, and some of the remaining players were not particularly happy with the decision.

Jim also had a feud with Boudreau, although that feud appears to be for completely different reasons and began in September 1943. In Jim’s version,8 the feud began when Boudreau fined him $100 for not taking a warm-up run before a night game in Washington. Jim had already done his warm-up run before Boudreau showed up at the park. Jim wrote to a sportswriter that “he never took that fine off, and from then on I said what I thought.” Boudreau responded that Jim was out of shape and that “Jim and I don’t see eye-to-eye on some things.” However, Boudreau also said, “I’d rather have a disgruntled winner than a happy loser.”9

Despite Boudreau’s comment, he did shop Jim to other teams, coming closed to trading him to the Detroit Tigers in December 1943, but Boudreau called off the negotiations immediately when Al Smith, another strong Indians pitcher, was reclassified as 1-A, being immediately eligible to serve in the military.10

After the failed trade, Jim went public again, expressing his dislike of Boudreau and desire to be traded.11 He then demanded more money from the Indians and became the last holdout in the American League two months later. Instead of signing, he requested “voluntary retirement for the duration”12 in March 1944. At the same time, he applied to become a Merchant Marine, with the service indicating that he would have to wait three weeks for examination and probably another week after that to enroll if accepted.

A month later, Jim announced that the Maritime Commission had accepted him and had ordered him to report in early May.13 In the meantime, he had been working out with the minor-league Atlanta team. He reported to the Commission, but he resigned in July, and immediately reported to his local draft board for induction into the Army.14

The next day, the press reported that, while Jim would not state explicitly that he was rejoining the Indians, he did say, “I’m through being bull-headed. From now on I’m going to do all the listening. I’m sorry I had all that trouble with Manager Lou Boudreau last year, but it won’t happen again because I have learned to keep my mouth shut.”15

And the next day, the press reported that Jim had reported for his preinduction physical at Fort McPherson in Georgia. The head of the local draft board indicated that Bagby himself requested the examination, but also noted that recent quotas for the draft board had not been high, with enough registrants in the twenty-six and below age group to fill the quotas; Jim was twenty-seven.16 A week later, Jim was rejected from the Army and rejoined the Indians, with catcher Jim McDonnell being optioned to a minor league team to make room for Jim on the roster.17

After rejoining the Indians, Jim continued to perform well but never again reached the heights of his previous seasons. After the 1944 season, the Jim was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Vic Johnson, who was another pitcher, and an undisclosed sum of cash.18

He was a starting pitcher for the Red Sox but pitched fewer innings than the other starting pitchers that year. However, the Red Sox won the pennant that year and went to the World Series against the Saint Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox would lose the series four games to three, but, in game four on October 10, Jim was called to pitch in the third inning, marking the first time in history that both a father and a son had pitched in a World Series game.

Following that season, Jim was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a fee reported to be in excess of the standard $10,000 waiver fee under which he had been offered. The season with Pittsburgh would be his tenth and last in the major league, surpassing his father’s tenure, but the United Press article at the time of the trade felt the need to describe him as having “never fulfilled the hope that he might become as great a pitcher as his father.”19

Oddly, his father had ended his career with Pittsburgh as well, and, in the end, both father and son played on exactly the same three major league teams, although in a different order.

After Jim left baseball, he became a golf pro. In 1982, his cancerous larynx was removed, and he was unable to talk again, but his wife could read lips and talked for him,20 especially when reporters would inevitably call in the Julys to follow in order to discuss the end of DiMaggio’s streak. Jim said he threw “just fastballs” and that “Joe hit one of them hard, but he just hit it at somebody.”

Jim died 2 September 1988 in Marietta, Georgia. In 1992, Jim Bagby, Jr., was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

Footnotes (omitted when article was published):
1 The Washington Post, “Jim Bagby Heads Jim Jr., 18, to the Majors”, 5 November 1934, page 17.
2 The Washington Post, “This Morning... With Shirley Povich”, 13 January 1938, page X17.
3 The Washington Post, “Jim Jr. Due to Stick”, Dillon Graham, Associated Press, 4 April 1938, page X17.
4 The Houston Chronicle, “Around the AL”, 11 April 1998, page 6.
5 The New York Times, “Question Box”, 13 August 1984, page C4.
6 The Washington Post, “Walker Goes to Cleveland in 3-Ply Deal”, Shirley Povich, 13 December 1940, page 24.
7 The Washington Post, “Pitcher Says Their Dislike Is Mutual”, Associated Press, 20 January 1944, page 18.
8 The Washington Post, “Pitcher Says Their Dislike is Mutual”, Associated Press, 20 January 1944, page 18.
9 The Washington Post, “This Morning... With Shirley Povich”, 1 December 1943, page 18.
10 The Washington Post, “Tribe Deal for Bagby Collapses”, 3 December 1943, page 14.
11 The Washington Post, “Pitcher Says Their Dislike is Mutual”, Associated Press, 20 January 1944, page 18.
12 The Washington Post, “Indian Pitching Ace, J. Bagby, Requests Retirement for Duration”, 9 March 1944, page 8.
13 The Washington Post, “Bagby To Be Called By Merchant Marine”, Associated Press, 12 April 1944, page 10.
14 The Washington Post, “Jim Bagby Resigns Maritime Service; To Take Army Exa[m]”, Associated Press, 12 July 1944, page 8.
15 The Washington Post, “’I’m Through Being Bull-Headed,’ Says Jim Bagby”, United Press, 13 July 1944, page 8.
16 The Washington Post, “Bagby Reports for Army Physical Test”, 14 July 1944, page 10.
17 The Washington Post, “Indians Make Room for Bagby”, Associated Press, 21 July 1944, page 10.
18 The Washington Post, “Bosox Get Bagby From Cleveland”, United Press, 13 December 1945, page 12.
19 The Washington Post, “Bosox Sell Bagby to Pittsburgh Club”, United Press, 12 February 1947, page 13.
20 The New York Times, “Views On Sport; A Mystery Man in the End to DiMaggio’s Streak”, John B. Holway, 15 July 1990, A7.

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