In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: intimidation.
During the pennant race of 1941, Brooklyn pitcher Freddie Fitzsimmons was 39 years old and in his 17th season. He’d so used up his throwing arm over the course of the campaign that it was crooked, according to Leo Durocher. “He literally could not reach down and pick anything up,” wrote the Dodgers manager in Nice Guys Finish Last. “He had to bend from the knees.” This meant that the right-hander, still vital to the Dodgers’ chances, had to out-think opponents instead of overpowering them, to the point that the New York Times that year referred to him as “210 pounds of courage and pitching skill.” Part of his success came via his power of intimidation.
As Brooklyn battled St. Louis down the stretch, every game mattered. During one of these encounters, Fitzsimmons found himself facing Johnny Mize, on his way to a fifth straight 100-RBI campaign.
Fitzsimmons was overmatched and knew it, so he did the only thing he could. Gathering whatever he could from his damaged arm, he threw his best fastball toward Mize’s head, causing the first baseman to lose his footing as he ducked out of the way. “Get ready, Picklehead, you’re going down again,” Fitzsimmons yelled toward the plate. Then he put his second pitch in exactly the same location. Before his third pitch, he yelled, “Right at that thick picklehead skull of yours,” and knocked the future Hall of Famer to the ground one more time. The right-hander then managed to squeeze two strikes over the plate, and with a full count badly fooled a wary Mize with a curveball. “You picklehead,” screamed Fitzsimmons. “You never could hit me!”