Late in the 1980s, when he was in his mid-nineties, Edd Roush stood as the last surviving player of the Black Sox World Series of 1919. He was still full of opinions, full of curmudgeonly charm, full of thoughts about the long-distant past. Speaking in the last year of his life (he died in 1988), Roush was adamant that the White Sox “threw the first ballgame. But they didn’t get their money after the first ballgame, so they went out and tried to win.” He said lots of players threw games in the ’10s, including some of his teammates.
Still, he said this about would-be fixers: “They knew better than to ask me. I would have knocked the hell out of them. And they knew that, too.”
At 94, Roush was also the last surviving Federal League ballplayer. He’d suffered two mild strokes and a heart attack, and he had this to say about modern baseball:
“Two-thirds of them playing today, if they had played back in my day, we’d have killed every one of them. They threw at you in those days, and they didn’t throw over the top of your head, either.
“Back when I played, if the three outfielders, the third baseman and first baseman didn’t hit .300, they didn’t last very long. Today if one of them hits .300, they’re lucky. Anybody who wants to see them play today is nuts.”
Roush summered in Oakland City, Indiana, and wintered in Bradenton, Florida. He had high blood pressure and a partial loss of hearing. He acknowledged: “I’m 94. So what? Something has to happen.”
And he had this to say about baseball: “That thing was a business with me. It wasn’t no fun. I’ll tell you that right quick. I played that game to win, and when you play to win, you don’t play for fun.
“When I was a kid, yeah, it was a lot of fun playing. It was a lot of fun playing in the minor leagues. But when you got in the major leagues, the damn thing was a business. It was then. I don’t know what the hell it is now.”
He told this anecdote from his final season: “The last year I played, we were so far in last place, you couldn’t even see the top. We were playing the Cubs. I come up with two men out. The pitcher kept shaking his head. I said, ‘Here comes the duster,’ so down I went.
“I said to the catcher, ‘You’re going to get somebody hurt with those dusters.’ He didn’t say anything. The pitcher shook his head again, and down I went. I walked halfway out there and said, ‘You won’t have enough ballplayers to finish this game if I get to them.’
“I hit the ball on the ground and got to first base the same time the ball did. (Charlie) Grimm was playing first base. I didn’t step on the base; I stepped right on Grimm’s ankle. I intended to break his leg. So, here they come. Finally (Cubs manager Rogers) Hornsby says, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘I think Roush broke my leg,’ Grimm said. I said, ‘I’ll break all your legs if your pitcher keeps throwing at me.’
Then Hornsby said, “‘I’ve played against him for years, and I played with him one year. You guys get back on the bench and quit throwing at this guy. He’ll take us all out of here.’”
“You know, we beat them five straight and beat them out of the pennant, just because that pitcher wanted to go home and say, ‘I knocked Roush down twice.'”
Roush had this to say about spring training too: “Why would I want to go down there and run around every day? It only took me one day to get in shape, and it didn’t even take that. A few swings of the bat and I was ready to start. It was a waste of time to go down there. For what?”
And this to say about Jim Thorpe: “Jim Thorpe was the fastest running man I ever saw. I think he’s the fastest anybody else ever saw. I was pretty fast myself. I’d go out and run with him. I’d run as fast as I could, and he’d just be trotting along. I said, ‘Jim, anybody ever make you run your best?’ He said, ‘I never saw anybody I couldn’t look back at.’ “
And this to say about hitting the dead ball: “I always tried to hit the ball on the line. You couldn’t hit the dead ball anyplace. I caught many of ‘em out there in center field that were lopsided. You’d just push it back together and throw it back in.”
And he said this about the Hall of Fame: “What in the hell is it after you get in there? You got all these guys in there who can’t play ball to start with. It didn’t mean nothing to me. I played ball to win and make money, the hell with the rest of it.”
The reporter interviewing him noticed this, though: “But then you look at his left hand, and there’s that ring.” There was the toughness and the hard-edged attitude, but Roush was clearly at least sentimental about being a Hall of Famer.