Top 100 Baseball Blog

Friday, January 31, 2014

Former MLBer Ed Mickelson Talks Career and Satchel Paige

Baseball is a beautiful game that takes a significant amount of talent in order to play professionally. Although many players spend years honing their craft in an effort to get one of the golden tickets that is the chance to sign with a professional team, a select few come to the game by accident. Slugger Ed Mickelson was one of those players; a natural athlete whose first choice wasn’t the National Pastime, but ultimately drew him in like so many before.

Mickelson grew up in Missouri and excelled in basketball and football. He only really took up baseball after joining the service during World War II and playing with his fellow soldiers.
At 6’3” and 205 pounds, the right-hander was a large specimen whose size translated into impressive power. His acumen with a bat and ball was enough to earn a contract in the minor league system of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Playing primarily at first base, Mickelson suffered through some injuries but had an excellent 11-year career in the minors, hitting a combined .316 with 108 home runs in 1,189 games. In additional to the Cardinals, he also played in the systems of the St. Louis Browns, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.

His best minor league season came in 1954 with the Double-A Shreveport Sports in the Texas League (Browns). Appearing in 150 games, he hit .335 with 17 home runs and 139 RBIs.
Despite spending most of his career in the minors, Mickelson did get a few cups of coffee in the majors, appearing in brief stints with the Cardinals (1950), the Browns (1953) and the Cubs (1957). All told, he had three hits and three RBIs in 37 at-bats.

Mickelson does hold a place in major league history, although he was barely there. On September 27th, 1953, he hit an RBI single to right field off Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Billy Pierce, accounting for the last RBI ever for the Browns- who became the Baltimore Orioles the following year. More details about his playing career are available here.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mickelson several years ago, and he regaled me with fantastic stories from his playing career. Make sure to check out our conversation- as the former player came away from baseball with quite a lot of great memories.

Ed Mickelson Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: Well, actually, what I was interested in was basketball. That’s what I played all the way through junior high school and high school. I then went on to college and played basketball. I waited until my senior year.

I got a scholarship in football to Missouri, and I was a starter for them in football and basketball in 1944 and 1945. I was only 18 years old, but there were a lot of people in the war at the time.
But baseball, I didn’t play it until my senior year in high school, and only played in about 15 games. Then I played somewhat when I was in the service during World War II, when I was in Scottsdale and played for the base team. We played about 25 game games, so I was really a neophyte when it came to baseball.

When I signed up, I went down to Oklahoma A&M and played basketball after I got out of the service. The coach said ‘We don’t have any more basketball scholarships, but we have baseball scholarships.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try.’ So, I think I was one-for-23, and I hit the heck out of the ball as long as it was a curve or a changeup

When I signed with the Cardinals, I went down there and worked out and hit some balls up into the bleachers because Del Wilber, the Cardinals catcher, was throwing them right down the middle about 75 miles an hour. I was laughing about it.

Playing with the Cardinals, I had to learn on the job really. I had to learn what the strike zone was. I knew what baseball was because I had watched a bunch of games.

Prior to college, you really didn’t play much baseball growing up?: Not at all. I was never on a team. I played softball, but never baseball.

What type of hitter were you?: I was a line drive hitter. I didn’t hit a lot of home runs, but I hit a lot of doubles, some triples, and every now and then I’d hit some home runs.

In 1950, when you earned your first major league promotion; how were you told?: My manager was Charlie Metro, and the last game of the season we played in Montgomery and I hit a home run over the scoreboard, and I was feeling good about that. Then he told me. He said, ‘The Cardinals want you to join them.’ So, I went home to get my stuff.

It took me about two days to get there, but I got there- in New York. The Cardinals were playing the Giants, and we were winning about 12 to 2, and Eddie Dyer put me in as a pinch hitter, with Larry Jansen pitching. I think he was going for his 19th victory. Anyways, I had a couple of good pitches to hit and then took a tall third strike, which I thought was a good three or four inches outside. But the umpire thought better about it and said, ‘Okay rookie, you gotta swing at those.’ So I got called out.

I didn’t play for four or five days, and then we went into Boston and we played the Boston Braves. I wasn’t playing at all; I was just sitting on the bench. Eddie Dyer came up to me and said, ‘Hey Eddie, Musial is back at the hotel with a 103-degree fever. He ain’t playing today. Warren Spahn is pitching.’ So he pitched a two-hitter that day, and they beat us 5-0, and I got one of the two hits. My first hit was off Warren Spahn.

Was your first hit against Spahn your favorite moment from your playing career?: I don’t think so. My favorite moment was in 1972. A kid I coached in high school, Ken Holtzman, pitched his first game in the World Series. I called Bing Devine, and said, ‘Hey Bing, you owe me one.’ He said, ‘Okay, you got my tickets.’ So I went to Cincinnati and saw the opening game of the 1972 World Series.

Kenny was pitching and I got to yelling at him while he was warming up. The first pitch he threw was a strike to Pete Rose. That was probably the most thrilling moment of my career.

Did you ever play against any Negro League teams?: Yeah, in the fall of 1949 I played a couple of games against some barnstormers. And that was it. I played with Satchel Paige. I played in a game that he pitched once.

What was Satchel Paige like?: He was one of a kind; absolutely one of a kind. He could back up just about anything he said he could do. Of course he was the best public relations man; Satchel himself. He would say anything to make people make a mess of themselves. As you may know, he could throw a ball 100 miles an hour and put it exactly where he wanted to.

How do you think he would have done if he could have played his entire career in the majors?: Bob Feller said he was the best pitcher he ever pitched against. Joe DiMaggio said he was the best pitcher he ever faced. Satchel, when he used to warm up before a game; now this was in ‘53 and he was with the Browns and I was with the Browns. Babe Martin was the third string catcher. Babe would tell me that Satchel wanted a chewing gum wrapper on home plate so he could hit the inside and outside corners of a chewing gum wrapper. When you can throw the ball 100 miles an hour and exactly where you want to, they aren’t going to hit you. He had a whole bunch of different pitches too.

I think I went to a Negro League All Star game around 1935 or 1936. There was always a feud between him and Josh Gibson. Satchel would tell him that if he came up to the plate again he would strike him out.
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