Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.
Part of Satchel Paige’s charm/mystique were the “rules” for life and baseball that he promulgated and that have been widely quoted since the 1940s.
Another player who formulated some thoughts on living a good life was long-time (1950-51, 1954-67) Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vern Law.
Law had been a three-sport high school star in Meridian, Idaho, and it was reported that he chose the Pirates from among a host of big league offers when team co-owner Bing Crosby phoned Law’s mother to assure her that Vern would be in wholesome environs with Pittsburgh.
An elder in the Mormon Church, Law spoke often to groups, using talking points from a notebook he kept with sayings and quick-quotes. He called them his “Words to Live By.”
Here are some of them, as reported by Les Biederman in in the March 13 issue of The Sporting News . . .
“I have never met a man who is not my superior at something.”
“A good timber never grows with ease; it needs a strong wind and storms to give it strength.”
“A discouraged man is not a strong man.”
“Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity.”
“There is nothing wrong with youth. Actually only ten per cent of the youths are bad and these ten per cent get all the publicity.”
Some of the rules by which the “Deacon” chose to live his life he summarized as . . .
“I shall never criticize my superiors. I will never uphold my opinion to the extent of angering another. I will never forget that I am one of God’s marked men.”
“I will always remember that I am made of the same stuff as the worst sinner and without God’s help I would be worse than he.”
“I will always have a smile for everyone, especially those who like me least.”
“When you are under the influence of anger and emotional outburst, growth is unlikely and spirituality impossible.”
“If you would rise to great heights, remember you cannot climb on the shoulders of your fellow men, but you must be worthy to be lifted by those about you to this lofty position.”
“There are two occasions in competition when you must learn to keep your mouth closed: When you lose and when you win.”
“A champion is not always a consistent winner; he may have been a one-time loser who would not quit. If you would leave footprints in the sands of time, it will be necessary to wear your work shoes.”
“Many have the will to win on the day of the contest, but few – the champions – have the will to prepare to win.”
Law’s words don’t have the folksy charm of Paige’s “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you,” but they speak volumes about the man who jotted them down.
Law won the Cy Young Award in 1960 with a 20-9 record. Some locker room horseplay after the pennant-clinching game in September led to his rapid decline thereafter.
A teammate tried to yank off Law’s shoe without untying the lace and accidentally twisted Law’s right ankle.
Adjusting his mechanics to accommodate the sore ankle, Law injured his right shoulder muscle. He went from a 20-9 mark in 1960 to a 3-4 record in 1961. After 1962-1963 seasons of 10-7 and 4-5, he went on the voluntarily retired list in August, 1963.
He returned for 1964, professing to suffer no pain in his shoulder, just weakness from lack of work. He was able to rebound to a 12-13 record.
Law pitched through the 1967 season, winning 48 more games and losing 36 to bring his lifetime major league record to 162-147.
4-hr. game most memorable
Though there were many highlights in his career, Law recalls an 18-inning no-decision game he pitched against the Braves in 1955 as his most memorable.
Law started the game at Forbes Field on July 19 at 8:15 p.m. and was still pitching at 2:35 a.m.
“It’s strange how that game stays with me through the years,” he said. “Fred Haney was our manager and I went 18 innings in a 2-2 game. I gave up nine hits, struck out 12 and walked two.
“We had a man on in the eighteenth, and when it came my turn to bat, Fred said he was going to send up a pinch-hitter.”
Roman Mejias batted for Law, with no success.
“We did not score and Bob Friend took over in the top of the nineteenth inning. The Braves got one run but we scored two in our half and won 4-3.”