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Mudville: July 14, 2024 9:44 pm PDT

Larry Miggins

"Babe had sent everyone out of the room and said, “Send the priest in.”"

BallNine is all about baseball stories.

The entire company was based on the concept of bringing baseball stories to the fans from players and baseball people themselves.

Spitballin’ has been a fun series that has run for close to two years without missing a week, so that translates to dozens and dozens of stories from your former favorite players.

I am here to say this week, we are featuring two of the most incredible stories we have heard, so let’s go Spitballin’ this St. Patrick’s Day weekend with a fine Irish gentleman, Larry Miggins.

Who is Larry Miggins, you ask?

At 96 years and 210 days old, Miggins is the fourth oldest living former Major League Baseball player. He’s the last person alive who can say he played for the St. Louis Cardinals with Stan Musial in the 1940s. He’s a World War II veteran. When Miggins was born, the top players in baseball were Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb and, of course, Babe Ruth. He grew up childhood friends with Vin Scully in The Bronx. To think of the things Mr. Miggins has seen in his nearly 97 years on the planet is absolutely incredible.

Now, about those stories.

The first came in 1946 when Miggins was the starting third baseman for the AAA Jersey City Giants. On April 18, the Giants were set to take on the Montreal Royals on opening day at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. It is perhaps the most significant minor league game in baseball history as that was the first professional organized game in which Jackie Robinson played.

Miggins can recount the rest of the story from there in our interview. He remains the only living member of the Jersey City Giants from that game.

The next story started prior to World War II when Miggins and his buddy Vin Scully were high school students sitting in the back of an auditorium at Fordham Prep in the Bronx. Miggins and Scully were sharing their dreams of where they saw themselves in the future. Scully said he wanted to be a sports announcer, particularly in Major League Baseball. Miggins responded that he wanted to get into Major League Baseball too, but as a player.

Scully of course became one of the all-time broadcasting legends, but in 1952, the young announcer only worked the fourth and seventh innings of Dodgers games at Ebbets Field. On May 13, 1952, Miggins was starting just the fourth game of his Major League career and his Cardinals were in town to play the Brooklyn Dodgers. As the game went on, Musial and Red Schoendienst started a Cardinals rally with a single and double respectively. Later in the inning, Miggins belted the first home run of his career off Preacher Roe.

It came in the fourth inning and his buddy, Vin Scully, was on the call.

Scully recounted that story when he gave the commencement address at Pepperdine University in 2008 and to quote the Hall of Fame announcer, “Can you imagine such a far-fetched dream coming to reality?” He also called it the most emotional moment of his life outside of his children being born.

If you’re a fan of baseball history, you can’t help but listen to Miggins’ stories in stunned disbelief. He grew up in the Bronx as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were dominating the sport and it’s practically unfathomable that there are still people around who can speak to that experience.

Pull up a seat and count your Irish blessings because we’re going Spitballin´ with an absolute baseball treasure, Larry Miggins.

Sure enough, the umpire turned around and started walking to left field. Harry Walker said, “Larry, let’s get outta here!” I said, “I can’t get out of here, the damn fence is eight feet high!”

Mr. Miggins, I can’t tell you how much of an honor it is to be speaking with you. I am so happy to share your baseball stories with fans. Let’s start in your childhood. Growing up in the 1930s, how did you get started playing baseball?

When I was a kid, I was playing ball at about 12 years of age with an organized group of men. I would play shortstop for the group. Anytime they would pull somebody in to play, like a college guy or something, they’d say, “We got a 12-year-old kid on our ballclub!” And it was true. I played ever since then.

Did you have any favorite teams or players growing up?

I was a Giants fan and later I signed with the Giants. I got to know Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell and a few of the others. Bill Jurgess was a good friend of mine.

Growing up in the Bronx, did you ever get to Yankee Stadium to see Babe Ruth play in person?

Never got to see him play because the first game I went to was in 1937. I did get close to him a few times though. When I was working out with the Giants, he was there working out too. He was a man I loved. Babe was a man who kept his Faith. He didn’t go to Mass every Sunday, but he got all the other guys to go to Mass.

I would go to this Holy Rosary Church in town. When [Babe Ruth] died in 1948, I was outside and this young priest from New York asked about The Babe. He said that he got to see him because he heard his confession about a week before he died. Babe had sent everyone out of the room and said, “Send the priest in.” He made his final confession, so you might just see Babe in heaven one day. If you go to confession, confess all your sins, get absolution and make your penance, you could be in good shape to get there one day too and see the Babe!

I hope so! That’s absolutely amazing. Can you tell us about signing with the Giants?

I was hitting with the big club after the season was over and Billy Jurgess grabbed me. He said, “I’ll get you in there before Ott.” Sure enough, Jurgess got me in there to take six swings. I hit five of them where Bobby Thompson hit his home run. Five of them altogether in the upper tier left field. They said they wanted to send somebody to get a contract signed that day. I was 17 and couldn’t sign one, so they had to get my dad to sign it. My dad refused to sign it. He wanted to get a little more money. I had a scholarship offer with University of Pittsburgh too. Frankie Frisch was the Giants manager, one of the greats of all time. He went to Fordham University and I went to Fordham Prep. It worked out that they offered me $3,000 to sign with the Giants, so I signed with them.

I read all about your friendship with Vin Scully and how he talked about his dreams of becoming a baseball announcer when you were kids. He then went on to call your first Major League home run. Can you tell us about that? 

It’s a true story. He told me about it after it happened. Vin Scully lived off 3rd Avenue in the Bronx, north of Fordham Prep. He’s a great man and would come to visit with me when the Dodgers came to town.

That’s great. And speaking of the Dodgers, I have read that you played against Jackie Robinson in his first ever minor league game in 1946. He was playing for the Montreal Royals and you were playing third for the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. What do you think about your place in history?

Yes, it was Opening Day. I got two hits in the game too. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time because I played for the Brooklyn Bushwicks at the time and we played against a lot of Black teams, like the Black Yankees. We even played against teams mixed with black and white players. Nothing ever bothered me at all. [Jackie Robinson] went 4-5 that game and led the league in hitting. He dropped two bunts down on me.

You played for the Columbus Red Birds in 1950 in the American Association. What was your experience like there?

I just told a story the other night. It was in the playoffs and I was playing left field. Harry Walker was playing center and some other ex-Big Leaguers were there. We were up 2-0. About the fifth inning, a guy hit a shot with two men on base down the left field line. It was a high drive that was gonna be a home run for sure. I ran over and jumped up and it was about a foot away from my glove. When I came down, I turned towards the ball and it must have hit a step and it bounced right back to me. I grabbed it with my left hand and threw it in to second base. The umpire called it a double, but it was a home run! It was at least eight to ten feet into the stands, but the umpire lost the ball. He judged what happened by the way I played it.

There were no replays back then! Did the call stand?

An argument started and the whole Minneapolis team came out of the dugout and chased the umpire from third base to first base and back again. Meanwhile, Solly Hemus was our shortstop. He told the umpire, “I know the kid in left field, he’s honest. Go out there and he’ll tell you the truth.” Sure enough, the umpire turned around and started walking to left field. Harry Walker said, “Larry, let’s get outta here!” I said, “I can’t get out of here, the damn fence is eight feet high!”

The first thing the umpire said disarmed me. He said, “Larry, they tell me you’re an honest man.” He said, “Frankly, I lost the ball in the white shirts and the sun, so I couldn’t tell if it bounced in or went in on a fly. I’m asking you man-to-man, was it a home run, yes or no?” His first name was Bill, I said to him, “Bill, I only had two [home runs here] in the whole season. If I hit a ball that far here, I’d want a home run.” That fence was 380 feet, 40 feet further than the Astrodome. I said, “Yes, it was a home run. But you’re the umpire, so keep me out of it.” So he sent the two guys around the bases, they went a run ahead and beat us by one run.

In the long run, being honest was probably best. How did your team react to it?

Well, we had two more games left of the five-game series. We won the last two games, but I was getting booed the whole way by about 15,000 people. When I got to the stadium, none of the ballplayers would talk to me. They froze me out and ignored me altogether. I thought, all we had to do was win, and we did. The next series, we went to Baltimore and beat them three out of five and I hit two home runs. I told that story the other night and it’s one that I haven’t told much, but it’s a great story!

It really is a great story, I love it! I wanted to ask too about being teammates with Stan Musial when you were with the Cardinals. What was he like?

Stan was a very quiet guy. He didn’t mix too much with the whole club. He stuck with Red Schoendienst and guys who had been there a long time. In 1963, the last year he played, the last game he played in Houston they had a gift for him. Every time he played a team for the last time, they had a gift for him. They brought him to home plate, he’d say a few words and they’d give him a gift.

I had played with him in 1952 and knew him. I called him at the hotel and it was a Sunday. I asked if he wanted to go to Mass with me. I told him I’d pick him up around 9:00. I wanted him to meet the pastor and some of my friends at the church. He said, “Yes, pick me up and as long as I get to the ballpark on time that’s OK.”

I got in my car and picked him up. He came to my house and then Mass and then I took him to the ballpark. He got to meet the pastor and everyone. There was one priest there who didn’t know baseball, but he was a very prominent priest. He knew nothing about baseball or Stan Musial and he was old and so hard of hearing. I walked over to him and said, “Father, this is Stan Musial. The great ballplayer.” He said, “Who? Did you say he played music?” I said, “No, he plays first base for the Cardinals.” He got excited and said, “Oh! Is he friends with the Cardinal? From the Catholic Church?” I still laugh about it to this day.

Mr. Miggins, that’s a great story to end on! Thank you so much for your time, this has been absolutely incredible. A Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and your family and we wish you the best of health and happiness. Our readers are going to love this one, you’re a real treasure. 

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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