Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Bob Feller

Bob Feller, one of the great baseball pitchers of all time, talks to Wallace about ballplayers' salaries, the reserve clause, rich ball clubs, Pay TV, beer companies as sponsors, bean balls, gambling, and Joe DiMaggio versus Ted Williams.

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Guest: Bob Feller

WALLACE: Good Evening. What you're about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: Tonight we go after the controversial story of conflict between players and team owners in Major League Baseball. We'll get our story from about the greatest pitcher of our time. You see him behind me, he's retired Speedball King, Bob Feller. If you're curious to know why Bob Feller charges that ballplayers are just pawns in the hands of team owners and are afraid to say so, and what he thinks of baseball topics ranging from the bean ball to Jackie Robinson, from Ted Williams to night ball games, we'll go after these stories in just a moment.

My guest's opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's or my sponsor's, Philip Morris, Incorporated, but whether you agree or disagree we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast.


WALLACE: And now to our story. Last year the greatest pitcher of our time, or just about anyway, Bob Feller, retired from baseball and became instead one of its most active and bitter critics. The once shy Iowa farm boy has attacked several of baseball's most sacred institutions, especially the hiring system which can make a ballplayer the exclusive property of one ball club for life, whether the player likes it or not. Just last month the Congress of the United States began to investigate this setup; some players defended it, but Bob Feller attacked it and we're going to try to find out why.

Bob, first of all let me ask you this, and I think it's something that may be puzzling a lot of baseball fans: in your top years with the Cleveland Indians you made about eighty thousand dollars a year and your entire earnings from baseball have been estimated at close to a million dollars. Now then, in view of your phenomenal success how can you charge that ballplayers are getting a bum deal from their bosses?

FELLER: As far as I'm concerned, Mike, the setup is wrong. It's not a matter of how much they make. It's the structure, the principle that a ballplayer is not in a strong bargaining position, especially the ballplayer that was not blessed with a 'good arm,' a 'good eye.' I was very fortunate, and very fortunate to have a father to develop it but the average ballplayer's life is only approximately four and three quarters years in the Major Leagues and they make much less than such... some of the... we lucky fellows like DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Roberts...

WALLACE: Wait just a second. The Congressional sub-committee investigating this issue has brought to light the fact of the average earnings in the Major League and I was amazed to find out that the average... the average salary for the twenty-five men on your former team, the Cleveland Indians, was eighteen thousand five hundred and twenty dollars each last year; for the Dodgers that was slightly higher. Now certainly there's nothing wrong in that kind of pay for men who play, how many months out of a year?

FELLER: Well of course, Mike, as far as I'm concerned it's not the amount that you make, it's the principle that you're not in a strong bargaining position. If you have ever read a Major League contract, you can tell that a ball club can give you twenty-five percent cut any year and sign you either with or against your wishes.

WALLACE: Well still... that's a pretty good average figure.

FELLER: I'll grant you that, but when you consider that the average life of a Major League ballplayer who puts in one year in the Big Leagues is less than five years, his total earnings after taxes and maintaining two homes is certainly not going to make him independently wealthy, or even independent.

WALLACE: Uh-hum... But specifically, Bob, I think that your main beef, from what I've been able to understand from the newspapers and your testimony down in Washington and so forth, is against what is known as the "reserve clause" in baseball. Now, could you tell us briefly and without legal "gobbledygook" what the reserve clause means, what it is?

FELLER: It is my understanding, and as far as I know all the players' understanding, that you are the property of a ball club as long as they want you. Your career lasts five years or twenty years, you sign with that ball club. However, you're obligated to the ball club for the entire life of your baseball career, but the ball club is obligated to you for thirty days. You can be released in... with thirty days... no thirty days' pay.

WALLACE: Don't you sign a contract for an entire year anyway, when you sign with a ball club, Bob?

FELLER: Yes, it's signed for the year, but I don't think that's an equitable arrangement, when you're obligated to a ball club for your entire lifetime as a producing athlete and they have only thirty days' obligation to you.

WALLACE: Uh-hum... And I understand that you would like to limit the reserve clause to something like five years instead of lifetime, is that the main part of your beef against the reserve clause?

FELLER: I think during a baseball player's career sometimes if he's unhappy on account of his salary or other conditions, which is not necessarily salary, he should have a chance to make a choice; and I arbitrarily say three years plus an option of two more gives the ball club a couple of years to make that man happy, to trade him to a team of his choice. He has no say-so of what part of the country he plays, with what team, with what teammates, many other things.

WALLACE: Well now, your suggestion about three with an option of two, a total of five, would sound on the face of it to be fairly reasonable, but let's look at what some of the other major figures in baseball and out of baseball say? Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick testified in Washington that if baseball were to drop that reserve clause there would be a constant wild scramble by the teams for players

and he said, "The natural result would be a concentration of the best player talent in the clubs which are able and willing to spend the money necessary to outbid other clubs. Weaker clubs", he said, "would be unable to compete; in other words, the rich clubs will be able to buy up all the good players and will compete for them." Isn't that true?

FELLER: Well Mike, where are most of them now? You live in New York.

WALLACE: Uh-hum.

FELLER: Er... I say no... I say a ball club would only hire two or three star ballplayers. Naturally, if you have four hundred ballplayers... all free agents, and you have more money than the sixteen other owners, you take your choice of sixteen ballplayers -- I'm sorry... of twenty-five ballplayers, the player limit. Is that going to guarantee you a pennant? And if the number three man was a... was the third on the list, his judgment perhaps might be better than yours.

Naturally, that's not going to happen. But just because you have the most money and four hundred ballplayers are standing in front of you, you can't pick any twenty-five of them... any more than I could bet you right now, even money, that you can't pick one out of any three pitchers that will win twenty games next year.

WALLACE: Well, let's say a pitcher has had a good season this year. He's won, let's say, twenty to twenty-five games; he can then put himself up on the auction block to the highest bidder. Is that not possible under the way that you would like it to run? And therefore, let's say a team with some money, lots of money, could buy up year after year the top ballplayers and thus make no race in either league.

FELLER: Oh, Mike, ballplayers have good and bad years. In fact, I've had a few of them myself. But if a ball club has a ballplayer for three years and then has an option of two more years on his services, they will know what their life is going to be. They will know how they are getting along with that player; they will have time to dispose of him and make him contented. However... er...

WALLACE: Let me ask you this, Bob: Is there one, one Major League baseball player, who is with you on this reserve clause thing? Now for instance, Stan Musial, Gerry Coleman, Eddie Yost testified as representatives of the players down in Washington, at the same time that you were testifying; they were in favor of the reserve clause in dozens of pages of testimony, and then after their testimony... Well, first answer me that: Is there one Major League ballplayer who is with you?

FELLER: Yes, there are several of them. Of course they're all under contract and we all know, or at least think, that there could be a modification to the reserve clause, which was also in the testimony in Washington.

WALLACE: Well... I don't understand why they... why they don't speak up. Er... After their testimony, that is Musial, Coleman, Yost, and your own, INS on July 9th quoted you as saying: "They're" -- meaning the ballplayers -- "They're all with me too, but they're afraid to say so." What are they afraid of? Why... why can't they -- this is a free country -- can't they get up and talk?

FELLER: They sure can, and I know that, uh, the player representatives or the ones that we have talked to and in the meetings we've had throughout the country the last several years, realize that there has to be some modifications made in some of the baseball rules and in the contract, but they never have taken it seriously enough to look into it. And now, of course, in Washington there are several bills, with different modifications on numerous matters such as the draft, the reserve clause. And, er... actually, I'm in insurance business and the insurance company tells me that ninety-seven percent of all the people are proven honest, and I think the same goes for ballplayers.

By that I mean, when it comes to the reserve clause, if a player was going to be a free agent next year, he'd have a tendency to let down. But I've noticed, throughout my twenty years with the Cleveland Club, a ballplayer that wanted to get on another ball club would play harder against the team that he was wanting to play for next year than he would against the rest of the clubs.

WALLACE: Bob, I still can't understand why baseball players now playing, or even old ballplayers who no longer have any connection with baseball, don't come to your aid and who are they? We, for instance, were talking to Jackie Robinson this week. He said, I think the reserve clause is all right." Can you tell me one Major League ballplayer of real note who'll stick with you, who will testify against the reserve clause with you and if not, Bob, why not?

FELLER: I'm not going to mention any names.

WALLACE: Why not?

FELLER: That's their business; when they're asked, they'll tell you. You read the story by one of the Cleveland ballplayers, who also is a columnist, but which is too lengthy to read here, and he agreed with me that I was correct.

WALLACE: But you must admit that you're pretty lonesome in your...

FELLER: I never solicited any of them. I talked to a lot of them and I have a lot of support. You can ask J. Norman Lewis, the ballplayers' attorney, who is here in town. The players go up there and talk to him. In fact, I talked to his assistant yesterday and many players go up there and tell him they're with me. I'm not going to mention their names here.

WALLACE: Well Bob, it's been suggested -- now mind you, I'm not suggesting this, but it has been suggested --that your chief er... gripe, if you will, against baseball is the fact that you weren't offered a front-office job after you got through with baseball, that you'd kind of like to be a manager or in the front-office someplace and, for the reason that you weren't taken into that hierarchy then you're going to take out your beef against baseball.

FELLER: I have no... did you mention against baseball? I am for baseball. I am for baseball, for all the fans. I think baseball consists of the fans, the Little League ballplayers, all the youths of America, the umpires, the writers, the owners, you, and everyone else. I don't think baseball can be any group of, or any one individual, or any small group of individuals. I think baseball is too important to America to say that this group of people, they are baseball. There's baseball on the West Coast, there's baseball fans, there's umpires, there's players, there's writers, and so forth.

WALLACE: Well, the writers we've talked to, all of the top sports writers we've talked to, say the players seem to be satisfied, and they admit that your fight about the reserve clause seems a little bit puzzling. One sports editor here in New York told us this, he said, "Bob probably means well, but at the same time he is apparently trying to make a name for himself as a spokesman for the players. He'd like to become baseball commissioner for the players the way Ford Frick is commissioner for the team owners." Any truth to that?

FELLER: (LAUGHS) First one, let me go back to say I was offered the front-office job by the Cleveland baseball club and I turned it down.


FELLER: They didn't have... I had more to do, and a more challenging job at what I'm doing now.

WALLACE: What kind of job they wanted you to do, Bob?

FELLER: Well, I was going to be involved in the farm system, as an assistant. And some day I'd like to be a club owner or a part-owner. I love the game. I have three boys that play it. And I run the Little League in my community in Clev... outside of Cleveland. And I think that the social changes in America are such that the baseball structure should take an overhauling and give... put the ballplayer in a more advantageous... advantageous bargaining position than he is today.

WALLACE: Would you like to be baseball commissioner for the players? You're President of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Is that... is that without salary? Is that a job without salary?

FELLER: Yes it is, which is a new organization they've just formed. As far as the baseball commissioner for the players, I'd have to give that a lot of thought. It would be a great honor to be a commissioner for the players.

WALLACE: Do you think they need one?

FELLER: I think when these hearings are over in Washington and then Legislation, if any, is passed or the chapter of baseball is changed, and I'm sure that it's going to be, and brought up to date and get away from some of this medieval thinking that is going on in baseball, I think that's all going to come out fine, and baseball will be bigger and better than ever and there will be more ballplayers, more leagues, more teams, and more jobs.

WALLACE: And do you think -- I want to press you on this one -- Do you think there should be a baseball commissioner for the players the way there is a baseball commissioner for the individual... for the teams as a group?

FELLER: ...For the clubs. I think that I'd have to answer that after the hearings are over and the legislation is passed or not passed in Washington.

WALLACE: All right, let's turn from the reserve clause itself, Bob, to something else. A big issue this season is talk about the Giants and the Dodgers moving to California, as you know. On July 6th Associated Press quoted you as saying, "Loud-mouthed magnates who talk about shifting their Major League franchises are hurting the game." Now, who are these loud-mouthed magnates that you were talking about and how are they hurting baseball?

FELLER: I think it hurts the attendance. If you're trying to woo the fans in your own backyard into your ballpark and at the same time threaten them if they don't attend the games, you're going to leave town, I think that builds up market resistance and also leaves us a city who is going to lose their Minor League franchise, or is going to... supposedly is going to get Big League ball in the near future... they wait for the new baseball club to come there. I don't think...

WALLACE: You're a businessman, though, Bob, and negotiations to shift a franchise and find a new ballpark take time. Should Walter O'Malley, for instance, wait until the middle of October to start negotiations for a new franchise, or a different city, next April?

FELLER: I think that that should not be made public; I think it should be done when snow is falling and after the season is over. I think it is very damaging to the attendance. However, maybe all this publicity that came up now, concerning this 'gold rush' in 1958, might have drummed up some interest in baseball. I hope it has.

WALLACE: What do you think about pay television for baseball?

FELLER: I sincerely believe that pay-TV goes coast to coast and is on... in the Minor League cities, where they have Minor League ball, and you can sit in front of your TV set and throw in 50 cents or a buck, it will kill Minor League baseball.

WALLACE: And, therefore, you are against it?

FELLER: Therefore if it would kill Minor League baseball and I think that it will, I'd be against... television in Minor League cities.

WALLACE: I understand that you said recently, Bob, there are some Major League ballparks you wouldn't want to take a woman to; they are not fit places. Which and what did you mean?

FELLER: Well, at some of the ballparks, night baseball, whether we like it or not, is an economic necessity. It has brought maybe a few people in the ballparks that might drink a little more frequently than they would in the afternoon. I don't say too much so, but there are some ballparks located in certain areas, which I am not going to mention, that a woman might be a little apprehensive to go to; and you have parking problems. And the districts that they happen to be located in are not quite compatible with the great, all American sport of baseball. It does create a problem.

WALLACE: Are you suggesting that, for instance, beer should not be served in ballparks?

FELLER: I say beer... if they want to serve beer in ballparks, serve it like they do in Fenway Park, under the stands, let no one take any beer or alcoholic beverage into his seat.

WALLACE: Youngsters, of course, make up a large part of the television audience watching televised baseball games. How do you feel about those games being sponsored by beer companies?

FELLER: Well, that's the ball club's business.

WALLACE: But your opinion?

FELLER: My opinion? I see nothing wrong with it. If they can't get some other sponsor, after all, we have... they have to pay the salaries to the ballplayers. I know beer companies are not allowed to televise the World Series, for a reason.

WALLACE: What's that?

FELLER: For a reason.

WALLACE: What's the reason?

FELLER: Well, you ask Commissioner Frick, he'll be glad to tell you.

WALLACE: Well, you know the reason. What is the reason? I'm kind...

FELLER: Well, he thinks it's the greatest show on earth, and he thinks he would sooner choose the sponsor and so far he's not seen fit to choose a beer company, which I can't say whether I agree or disagree.

WALLACE: Why can't you say? Certainly no one is intimidating you, you've been fairly outspoken about other things. Are you suggesting that it's not a good idea for beer companies to sponsor that World Series?

FELLER: I can't see any reason for it, if they're sponsored by everything else, all summer long. I don't think it makes a bit of difference.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. Do you think it's hypocrisy?

FELLER: No, no. It's just a matter of one man's opinion. And he's a commissioner and if he's said so, that's...

WALLACE: It does seem a little strange though that individual beer companies can sponsor ball games around the country, and yet when the World Series comes along, it'll be sponsored by somebody else. Of course, there's one company that's had the Baseball... the World Series tied up for a long time anyway.

FELLER: That's a very fine company and we appreciate the money they put in the Pension Fund.

WALLACE: Bob, the August 2nd issue of U. S. News and World Report carries results of a physical fitness test given to American and European school children. The article notes that 60 percent of the American kids failed the test, compared with only 8.7 percent failure among European kids. U. S. News concludes, quote, "Underneath a veneer of Olympic heroes, all-Americans and professional sport stars, this country has a soft core of youth," end quote. What's your reaction to that? Is it possible that too many of us spend too much time watching athletes like Bob Feller, instead of getting out on our own?

FELLER: I'm glad you asked me that, Mike. I read that story today, very interesting. And I'd been... I think that we have a country of... we're beginning to be a country of sport sitters instead of sport fans or sport actual participating. And it's about time we wake up to that fact; we're on ball bearings and wheels all the time. And that's, of course, the Little Leagues are a great assistance in that matter. Let me say one thing more before it's too late to. Er... I am here to let the people know a few things about what goes on at the economic end of baseball.

We have some great athletes in this country, Jim Thorpe, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Joe Louis; we don't want the baseball players, if we can help it in the future, or the athletes in the future, to wind up as some of those gentlemen have.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. Uh-huh... Now, Bob, if there is one thing that baseball fans like to do, it's argue about baseball. In a moment I'd like to get your opinions on some of the things they argue about, including the bean ball, Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson if we have time, and the current pennant race. And we'll get Bob Feller's opinions on these topics in just one minute.


WALLACE: Now, Bob, let's get your opinions on a few of the things ball fans like to argue about. First, let's go to the bean ball. Did you ever throw one?

FELLER: No, Mike. I never did.

WALLACE: You were in Major League ball for 20 years, and you never, never threw a bean ball or a duster even once?

FELLER: I thought if I couldn't get 'em out by striking 'em out, or getting 'em out otherwise, I wouldn't try to knock 'em out.

WALLACE: Were you ever... Was it ever suggested to you that you should... might throw one?

FELLER: Oh, occasionally, I would be told to knock some back or brush some back. A brush back pitch, of course, and a bean ball are two different things. A brush back pitch is just another pitch like a curve, or a slide or a fast ball. A bean ball usually is after a batter has hit a home run in a tough ball game and somebody may get emotionally disturbed and maybe lose control of themselves for a moment, maybe throw at somebody and regret it for the rest of their life. I don't know. I can't read a man's mind or his heart.

WALLACE: But it is done, from time to time?

FELLER: It's been... Yes, I'm afraid it has been.

WALLACE: Bob, I won't press you as to who and where because I'm sure you wouldn't tell me anyway. It seems this year there has been more mayhem done in baseball than in past seasons, there has been more brawling on the field. How do you account for that?

FELLER: Well, maybe it's probably the intense rivalry and the intense competitive competition between the two teams for the top rung. These ballplayers get hot and they regret it and they apologize and shake hands. I know a few instances where it has happened in the tight pennant race in the National League and the American League... it's emotion. Nothing can be done about it, but I don't like it.

WALLACE: No reason this year, except for that perhaps the tight race in the National League that makes it tougher than usual?

FELLER: The intense competition and the heat of the battle.

WALLACE: There's been talk that the spitball should be made legal again in order to cut down on too much easy hitting. What is your reaction?

FELLER: Well, being a pitcher and never being able to throw a spitball and never trying to, except on the sidelines, I wouldn't like to see them bring back the spitball. I think it may hurt more pitchers than it would help.

WALLACE: How do you mean?

FELLER: Well, it's very hard to control a spitball. However, it's a matter of controversy, I don't like it personally.

WALLACE: Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams, you've pitched to both of them. Which one do you rate first as a hitter?

FELLER: I rate Williams first as a hitter. Being a right-hand pitcher and Williams a left-hand hitter, it's tougher for a right-hand pitcher to get a left-hand hitter out, generally speaking. DiMaggio got plenty of base hits off of me, he's a great ballplayer, the best all around ballplayer I ever played against.

WALLACE: Is that so? What about legalized gambling, pari-mutuels on baseball the way they have pari-mutuels in horse races?

FELLER: I don't like it.

WALLACE: Why not? Do you ever bet on a horse race?

FELLER: Oh, I have bet a couple of bucks on a horse race, certainly.

WALLACE: Well, then what basically is the difference between betting on a horse race and betting on a ballgame?

FELLER: Er... Let's be facetious; you never see a horse betting on a ballplayer, but... (LAUGHS) I think it might lead to loss of confidence by the public if there were pari-mutuels on ballplayers, and I think it is not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the sport.

WALLACE: I'm not sure that I understand.

FELLER: I don't think it would probably make the ballplayers dishonest, I'm sure nothing would, but it wouldn't be in keeping with the history of baseball and the attitude that the public has towards baseball.

WALLACE: Sports columnist Jimmy Cannon once told us that television sports casters are not independent commentators, that what they said on the air was, in a sense, more or less anyway controlled by their sponsors, and if they were covering a dull game or a crooked fight, they wouldn't dare say so. Do you agree?

FELLER: As far as I know about a crooked fight, I don't know, but I do know that in certain cases, and in several cases, that the sponsors and the ball club have a great deal of control over the broadcasters, the telecasters and the radio men.

WALLACE: What do you mean by a good deal of control, Bob?

FELLER: Well, they tell them how much to root, how partial to be, more or less what to say and what not to say, not to criticize and try to sell baseball. Which I don't blame them; I think they should sell it and make the game as interesting as possible.

WALLACE: Uh-hum. And frequently, when there is a rhubarb on the field, the cameras go elsewhere and don't report what's going on down on the field.

FELLER: Occasionally. I've sat in the bullpen and listened to a radio, sometimes I wonder if I'm looking at the same game as the announcer is.

WALLACE: One final question, Bob. The obvious one: Who's going to take the pennant in the National League?

FELLER: I'm a Milwaukee fan myself. Those fans up there are great and they deserve a pennant.

WALLACE: And in the American League?

FELLER: It looks like the Yankees. Hands down.

WALLACE: And who is going to win the World Series?

FELLER: I wouldn't bet against the Yankees. I'm an American Leaguer all the way.

WALLACE: Thanks, Bob, for taking time out from a very busy schedule to spend this half hour with us here in New York.

ELLER: My pleasure.

WALLACE: Bob Feller was once an awkward farm boy, who could pitch a ball so fast the batters literally couldn't see it. Thanks to baseball he became a national idol and a successful businessman. And now his keen criticism of baseball, its people and its problems, is Bob Feller's earnest way of repaying his debt to a great game.


WALLACE: Next week, we go after the story of television's original and most spectacular dumb blonde. You see her behind me, she is bosomy, not-so-dumb Dagmar, the $75 a week showgirl who rose to fame on television several years ago with her vacant stare, her West Virginia drawl, and her off-beat wit. If you are curious to know why Dagmar hates being called an intellectual idiot, why she tries to out-do Jimmy Durante in murdering the King's English, what she thinks of television critics who don't like her, and why she feels that her reputation as a TV eyeful has hampered her present career as a comedienne, we'll go after those stories next week. Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace, good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris, Incorporated, the Quality House.

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