I spoke recently to former Pirate (and Cardinal) Johnny O’Brien whose twin, Ed, also played in the majors. He shared a few stories about two of the game’s greatest of all-time, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.
O’Brien said, “The thing I noticed about the Hall of Famers is it seems to me that almost every one of those Hall of Famers [he played with or against] was a really nice person—they were helpful. You know, Ted Williams didn’t like the media, but he sure liked players and he would spend all kinds of time with you. I’ll tell you a story. George Sisler was our batting coach, the great Hall of Famer, with Pittsburgh, and his theory was that if you’re a right-handed batter, you could move your left foot in relation to what the pitch was. Well, I didn’t believe that.
“We were in spring training and we went over to play the Red Sox. I wanted to talk to Williams. He was the only guy in the time that I played—and I only played exhibition games against him because we were in the National League—who, every time he got into the batting cage, everything stopped. Everybody would just stop and watch. And he’d always tell the pitcher, ‘Throw anything you want.’ You would get to feel sorry for the ball. I mean, he would really punish the ball.
“They had taken their batting practice and he was running around in left field. So I went out there and said, ‘Ted, I’m Johnny O’Brien,’ and he was a statistical nut. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, and your brother at Seattle University scored all those points [in basketball].’
“I said, ‘You know, George Sisler’s our batting coach.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, he hit .420 one year,’ and things like that—he was an encyclopedia. I mentioned the theory that Sisler had and Ted said, ‘Well, Johnny, Mr. Sisler,’—he always referred to him as Mr. Sisler—‘was a great hitter, but he batted in an era where he saw one less pitch than us. He saw the fastball, the curve, the change, and the spitter. We see one more pitch than that. We see the fastball, we see the curve, we see the change up, we see the spitter, but we also see the slider, a variation of the curve. As you know, it comes in as hard as it gets and it breaks. You don’t have time to adjust your foot to that so you do it with your hips.’
“He’s got a bat and he’s moving his hips and showing me. And these two guys show up and they had one of those Movietone cameras with the machine gun roll [of film] on it. They start taking pictures. Williams says, ‘Watch this.’ He turns to them and says, “What the [fudge, only he didn’t say fudge] are you guys doing?”’
“They said they were taking pictures. He said, ‘John and I are having a private conversation. Get your ass outta’ here.’ So they left and Williams looked at me and said, ‘Did you see what I just did?’ I said that I sure did. He said, ‘You can only do that when you’re hitting .340.’”
O’Brien continued his take on Williams and Hall of Famers: “He was so great with players. He would spend all the time with them. And I think of Stan Musial. Really nice people—Jackie Robinson. We felt like we were part of an elite group so we competed hard against one and other, but we were very friendly towards one and other.
“Let me tell you a story. Ed and I had kind of a notoriety because we were twins—the first twins that ever played short and second together in the major leagues. So we’d get invited to a lot of things. Well, the Cardinals were in [Pittsburgh] and they were going to honor Stan. They invited Ed and I to come over. They were going to give us $25 apiece to go, so we were all for that. During the game, I’m on first base and Stan says, ‘I see you guys are going to come over to my shindig tonight. How are you going to get there?’
“I said I didn’t know. He said, ‘Well, I’ll drive you over and back cause I’m coming back to the hotel.’ We got together and drove over, had a nice meal, honored Stan, and on the way back Stan said, ‘What did you guys get?’ I told him $25 apiece. He said, ‘I got $100. I’m not in too much need of it. Here, you guys share that.’ And he gave us the 100 bucks.
“Then, when I joined the Cardinals in ’58, he was the first guy who came over and said, ‘Hey, nice having you with us,’ and stuff like that. He was really a class guy.”
When I wrote the book Stan the Man I never, EVER heard anything but glowing things about Musial. O’Brien nailed it–Musial was a class guy all the way.