Back in 1949, Ellis Kinder lifted a glass, but couldn't hoist Red Sox to pennant

June 21, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

It has become one of baseball's most astonishing stories -- how when the Boston Red Sox played the New York Yankees on the final day of the season to break a tie in the standings, winner-take-all for the 1949 American League pennant, that one of the starting pitchers came in at 4:30 a.m. with a sportswriter friend who helped him find the hotel and then his room.

Red Sox hurler Ellis Kinder, who had a reputation of being able to drink until the sun came up and even beyond, was numb to all the pain when Arthur Richman, then a reporter for the New York Daily Mirror and now a vice president of the Yankees, took his friend out for a pre-game ritual of "hoisting a few" to loosen his elbow.

Now, Ellis was never to be confused with Jack Armstrong. He came from Atkins, Ark., a fly ball away from the Ozarks, and was 24 years old before he entered the minor leagues at the grand salary of $125 a month. It wasn't until the advanced age of 32 that he reached the majors. Richman was one of his best friends and even tells of the time in Tennessee when Kinder took him to a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

"Why are we going here?" Richman wanted to know.

"Because it's Sunday morning and this is the only place I know where you can get a drink," was the answer Kinder gave, so Richman followed along, wondering if any of the Klansmen, knew there was a Jewish kid from New York in their midst.

On the evening before the epic Red Sox-Yankees showdown, Kinder, who had a record of 23-5, was scheduled to face Vic Raschi, who was 20-10.

"Some of the Red Sox players -- I particularly remember Vern Stephens and Al Zarilla, two other friends of mine -- told me to take Kinder out and get him loaded," Richman said yesterday as he talked of some of the mores and habits of yesteryear.

"Let me say right off that Ellis was the hardest and the best drinker, if there is such a thing, I have ever seen in baseball. He never became a falling-down drunk. He just liked to hit the bars. I lost count of the number of saloons we were in that night and we sure weren't keeping track of the drinks.

"I got him back to the Commodore Hotel, now the Grand Hyatt, at 4:30 in the morning. Joe Dobson, his roommate, was asleep and never stirred. Ellis, not in what you would call the best of shape, still didn't want to go to bed. But the next day he pitched one of the most remarkable games I've witnessed in 60 years of watching baseball."

The only run the Yankees scored, as Richman remembers, was after Phil Rizzuto slapped a single to left field that Ted Williams had trouble retrieving and the runner raced all the way to third base. Then Jerry Coleman got him home. It was that way, 1-0, until the eighth inning. Kinder and Raschi, pitch-for-pitch, were dealing a classic before 70,000 in Yankee Stadium.

This was the game to decide what team was going to the World Series. For the loser, there would be no tomorrow. Come the eighth inning, manager Joe McCarthy sent up a pinch hitter for Kinder that annoyed him deeply. The Red Sox followed with Mel Parnell and Cecil "Tex" Hughson in relief but they gave up four runs. Then the Red Sox scored three in the ninth, losing 5-3.

Kinder was quick to tell McCarthy what he thought of his move and in the locker room declared the Red Sox had again suffered from having "a chicken bone caught in their throats," another way of telling the world he believed he was playing with a collection of chokers.

In the off-season, Kinder had Richman handle his contract negotiations only the Red Sox didn't know it. Richman wrote the letters for his pitching, drinking friend to Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. When Williams signed for $125,000, Kinder, after winning 23 games, was offered $10,000. "Ellis had me write Yawkey if Williams was being paid all that money then he should be able to pitch, too. I think Ellis wound up getting around $25,000."

Following the previous 1948 season, Richman drove from Boston to St. Louis with Babe Martin, Mike Ryba and Kinder. Then Kinder and Richman took a train to Jackson, Tenn., where Ellis lived. As they reached the station, Richman noticed a crowd had gathered.

"Looks like they got a great homecoming for you," said Artie. "But Kinder told me, 'No, Artie, I just told them I was bringing a Jewish kid with me and they are all here because they have never seen a Jew before.' Honest to God, that's what he told me."

Kinder spent 12 years in the majors with the Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Browns and Cardinals. Catcher Mickey Owen said he delivered the ball quicker than "anybody I ever saw; he got rid of the ball so rapidly the batter didn't have a chance to tune himself to Kinder."

In talking about his pitching style, Richman agreed but said Kinder's changeup was so difficult that batters swinging at it looked like drunks on roller skates . . . except they were sober. Kinder died in 1968 at age 54, a victim of a liver disease, according to Artie. Ellis Kinder, nicknamed "Old Folks," lived fast, drank hard and left a beautiful memory.

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