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A pitcher speaks

By the time Maurice "Mickey" McDermott joined the Boston Red Sox in 1948 at age 19, the lefty had already hurled three no-hitters in the teamís farm system. His searing fastball inspired some to hype the teen phenom as the next Lefty Grove. But before long, off-field shenanigans ó crooning in Boston nightspots, wooing women in Ted Williamsís Kenmore Square suite, indulging a hefty drinking habit ó distracted and diluted McDermottís enormous potential. Things werenít helped when, in 1953, he told Jean Yawkey to fuck off, upon which his six seasons in Boston ("The best six years of my life") came to an unceremonious end. Finally, in 1961, after bouncing through five other teams, he called it quits with a 69-69 record.

But if McDermott lacked discipline, he exuded personality. His wide impish grin and big Irish heart made him beloved by teammates, opponents, and fans alike. He was one of baseballís true characters (a rarity in this era of "sullen millionaires, businessmen in baseball uniforms," as he calls todayís players). Norman Rockwell recognized it, making McDermott the model for his painting The Rookie after seeing a full-page photo of Mickeyís jug-eared mug in Life magazine. And what a life. After playing with Williams, Doerr, Pesky, and DiMaggio, in 1958 McDermott pitched for a spell in Cuba ó and was on the field, literally, when Castroís revolution commenced (bullets grazed the third-base coach). He palled around with Sinatra, sang with Eddie Fisher, drank with Jack Kerouac. His middle age saw a long period of drunken dissolution, but in 1991, after dying on the table (twice) during triple-bypass surgery, he won $7 million in the Arizona lottery and got sober.

Now heís written it all down. McDermott will be in town next week to sign copies of his book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown (Triumph). Better yet, the 74-year-old returns to his old stomping mound on Wednesday night to throw out the first pitch at Fenway. Over the phone from his home in Phoenix, Arizona, McDermott discussed his crazy life with the Phoenix. Herewith, some highlights. (NB: The exclamation points are not added for effect.)

On how his dad helped him get signed at 17 (and what Dad did with the $5000 signing bonus): I was a sophomore in high school, and my father took an ink eradicator and changed the date on my birth certificate. It almost got [Sox GM] Joe Cronin put in jail. Then five beer trucks pulled up to the house. He got five grand from me!

On how Tom Yawkey conspired with Cardinal Cushing to secure McDermott a spurious sheepskin, thus keeping Joe Cronin out of jail: They took a kid out of Catholic school, and signed him to a professional contract without a high-school diploma. If the papers woulda gotten ahold of that, there would have been hell to pay! They said, "We better get him a diploma somewhere." Whether it came from Sears & Roebuck or whatever!

On why Johnny Pesky will never again lend him the car: When I first come up, the front office made me live with him, ícause I was so young and he was supposed to take care of me. Pesky gave up that idea! He said, "Jesus Christ! Nobodyís gonna tame him!" They gave him a brand new Lincoln [for Johnny Pesky Day] and I said, "Can I borrow the car?" He says, "If you put one scratch on that, youíre gone!" I said, "Donít worry about it!" So Iím going at it with this broad in the back seat, and I kicked the window out! That was the end of the ball game. I had to get a hotel room.

On how bone chips in his elbow not only hurt his pitching but also, one evening in a bar, put an end to his scoring: One of the chips poked through the skin. And this lady was sitting next to me, and it squirted all over her. She about passed right out! Oh, my goodness! Ha heh heh! The bartender said, "What the hell kinda Bloody Mary is that?!"

On how he startled George H.W. Bush at the Ted Williams Museum: [Ted] hollers to me, "Maurice! Have you met the president?" And I say, "Noooo, I havenít, Theodoooore." He says, "Mr. President, Maurice McDermott." I said, "GEORGE, HOW THE HELL ARE YA, PAL?!" Holy Christ! Tedís reaching for his head, going, "Heís calling my commander-in-chief ĎGeorge!?í" I said, "Wait a minute, Ted! He played first base at Yale! Right, George?" And Bush gave me the high-five and laughed like hell. Ted just couldnít get over it. He was gonna kill me!

On the game today: Itís a business today. It was a business then, but we never got paid for it! But we had a lot of fun. Kids today have agents. You canít talk to íem, you gotta go to an agent. They donít have the camaraderie we had. Thereís somethiní different. I donít know, I canít explain it. But I can see it in their faces and the way they act. You can look at a bench, and once in a while youíll see laughter and having fun, which is great. But thereís too much being serious.

Mickey McDermott signs his book Wednesday, May 14 and Thursday, May 15 at 4 p.m. at Sport World, 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, (617) 437-1010; Friday, May 16 at 7 p.m. ó with Johnny Pesky ó at WordsWorth Books, 30 Brattle Street, Cambridge, (617) 354-5201; and Saturday, May 17 at 3 p.m. at Borders, 255 Grossman Drive, Braintree, (781) 356-5111.

Issue Date: May 9 - 15, 2003
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