In August of 2006, Elden Auker, the lone surviving member of the Tiger’s first World Championship team from 1935 passed away in Vero Beach Florida at the age of 95.
In one of his last interviews, I interviewed the former submarine style pitcher about his Tiger career and baseball two days after Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth in home runs. Auker was the last living person to have pitched to Babe Ruth. The following are excerpts from the interview.
What went through your mind when Bonds passed Ruth in home runs the other day?
“I didn’t pay any attention to it. Babe wouldn’t care. He would just laugh about it. But I think Bonds has been bad for baseball.”
Do you think baseball turned its heads on the steroids usage?
“Sure. Bud Selig is nothing but a puppet for the owners. Bonds has been a real meal ticket for the Giant’s owner. As long as Selig is commissioner Bonds will never get kicked out of baseball. Selig only came up with his silly steroids policy only after pressure and the hearings in Washington.”
How would you have pitched to Barry Bonds?
“Well, when I played we pitched differently. If a guy was really hitting we used to say, ‘let’s see how they can hit lying down.’ We had a knockdown pitch then, but they don’t let the pitchers do it now. When I pitched home plate belonged to me. Today it belongs to the hitters.”
I understand that Babe Ruth was the first Yankee you ever pitched to in Yankee Stadium. What was that like?
“ I was called in from the bullpen and I was just trying to get the hitter out. I struck him out on four pitches. I tried to keep the ball on his fists and keep the ball down so he couldn’t get a hold of it. I later played golf with him in Florida and he told me he always had trouble picking up my ball. He was just a big kid. He had more fun on a golf course then anybody I ever knew.”
What was it like playing for the Tigers in those great seasons of ’34 and ’35?
“When I came to Detroit as a rookie in ’33 it was the Depression, there were long soup lines and so many people were out of work. I felt so lucky to have a job. Navin Field was packed and when we won Detroit really came alive. There were people watching us who probably were spending their last dollars. Every time we came home from a road trip there would be hundreds of people greeting us at the Michigan Central Depot. As a team we were like a bunch of brothers, Hank, (Greenberg) Charlie, (Gehringer), Billy, (Rogell), Goose, (Goslin) Schoolboy, (Rowe), Tommy (Bridges) all of them. I think of those guys often. It was a wonderful time of my life. I have had a great life and I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it all over again.”
What do you remember most about winning the ’35 Series in Detroit in the bottom of the ninth in game six when Goose Goslin knocked in Mickey Cochrane?
“At one point during the game as we were on the dugout steps and Goose turned to me and said, ‘I have a feeling I’m going to be up there with the winning run on base.’ Sure enough he came up in the ninth and knocked in Cochrane. When I ran onto to field he threw his arms around me and yelled, “what I’d tell ya, what I’d tell ya, what I’d tell ya.”
I received a World Series ring from Judge Landis (Commissioner) and its been on my finger ever since.”
What was it like having Mickey Cochrane as your catcher and manager?
“He was terrific. He told our staff, ‘Just because I’m the manager and catcher you should feel free to shake me off anytime. I never want you to throw a pitch you don’t want to throw. But if they hit it out of the ballpark it’s your fault, and if they strike out its my fault.’ He was one of best managers and one of the great catchers. I probably shouldn’t say it but he would knock his mother down if it meant getting a hit. But he was a great person.”
What went through your mind when you spoke on behalf of the former players at the last game at Tiger Stadium ceremonies?
“It was truly a touching day for me and it was hard to think this was the last game there. It was a great honor to have been chosen to speak on behalf of the former players, but it wasn’t easy. One time I had to stop when I was speaking because I choked up a bit when I saw Ernie Harwell looking at me with tears in his eyes. A couple of times I didn’t think I’d make it though.”
If you would like to know more about Auker and his career, I highly recommend his 2001 autobiography written with Tom Keegan titled, Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms: A Lifetime of Memories from Striking Out the Babe to Teeing it up With the President (ISBN 1-89049-25-2.) It is a great read.