The old days in baseball, seen through the prim prism of the present, are remembered by many nostalgic fans as a glorious, untamed era of roughhouse and riot. There were Ty Cobb and his flying spikes, the rowdy Gashouse Gang, the terrible-tempered John McGraw; there was Grover Cleveland Alexander, a mighty man on the mound or at the bar; most of all, there was Babe Ruth, carousing his way through the frightened West with bat and bottle.
This is an article from the June 13, 1960 issue
Nowadays baseball seems much milder. Wally Moon has a master's degree, Stan Musial is vice-president of a bank, Vernon Law is a deacon of the Mormon Church. The typical ballplayer is an exemplary citizen, a conservative businessman whose business just happens to be swinging a bat.
But last week a splash of headlines served to remind the fan—who took the news not entirely with regret-that a few throwbacks to the raucous old days still exist. The most successful upholders of the old tradition are a group of wild-living, fun-loving, hell-raising players on the last-place Philadelphia Phillies who are known as The Dalton Gang. Whenever one of their nocturnal escapades lands them in trouble and makes the papers, someone around the National League invariably says: "I see where the Dalton Boys were out riding again last night."
Currently there are three members of the gang, all pitchers, Dick Farrell, 26, alias The Turk, and Jim Owens, 26, alias The Bear, are charter members, dating back to early last year, when Tom Ferrick, then the Phillies' pitching coach, gave the group its name. Jack Meyer, 28, called The Bird, is new to The Dalton Gang this year. ("He was a fringe member last season," says one sportswriter. "You might say he rode shotgun.") Seth Morehead, a fourth pitcher, was also a member last year, but he was traded to Chicago.
Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, on a Saturday night, Jack (The Bird) Meyer went out on what may prove to be his last ride for the Daltons. It sent him to the hospital with a herniated disk and it also cost him $1,200, the amount of the fine slapped on him by Philadelphia General Manager John Quinn. It was, in proportion to salary, the largest fine ever levied on a ballplayer. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams were each hit with a $5,000 fine during their careers, but Ruth was making $80,000 at the time and Williams $125,000. Meyer is making about $14,000, so the fine represents roughly 9% of his 1960 salary.
The Bird's trouble began in a night spot just up the street from the hotel in Pittsburgh where the Phillies were staying. Meyer, who had been drinking, and his roommate, Harry Anderson, were at a table near two sports-writers, Allen Lewis and Ray Kelly, and broadcaster Byrum Saam. Meyer was talking loudly on the subject of race horses. Lewis tried to quiet him down. Meyer became furious, wanted to punch Lewis and had to be led back to the hotel by his roommate. After Meyer had been put to bed, Turk Farrell decided it would be amusing to pour ice water on him. Again Meyer came up fighting, and again the patient Anderson, with the help of a teammate, John Buzhardt, had to calm Meyer and get him to bed. Then Meyer received a phone call, which for some reason upset him once more. He stormed about the room, ripping the Venetian blinds, smashing the radio and trying to fight his teammates. At some point during the battle, Meyer hurt his back. The next day he told Manager Gene Mauch what had happened. Mauch bundled Meyer off to Philadelphia to a hospital, his name was placed on the team's disabled list and he was fined.
When he learned the amount of the fine, Meyer was incensed. "What do they think I am, a millionaire?" he demanded. "I've got four kids to support." In rapid order Meyer threatened to hire a lawyer and fight the fine, announced he would quit baseball, and asked Phillie Owner Bob Carpenter for his unconditional release so he could sign with another club. Hearing all this, Manager Gene Mauch said, "Meyer is a problem. Do you think any manager wants to take a problem off my hands?"
Mauch's statement made Philadelphia sportswriters smile. One of the first questions they asked the new manager when he took over the Phillies two months ago was how he planned to handle the team's problem players.
"No problems as far as I'm concerned," Mauch said at the time. Later on he hedged. "If problems do arise," he conceded, "I'll try something to solve them. If that doesn't work out, I'll try something else." Not long after that Mauch said grimly: "Some of these guys are taking liberties."
The Dalton Gang has taken a lot of liberties since its formation. Last year Farrell was fined after he smashed a barroom mirror. Owens' aftergame behavior was bad enough to warrant a special lecture on the subject by General Manager Quinn when the two discussed Owens' 1960 contract. Owens was promised a $500 bonus if his conduct this year met the club's approval. The Bear didn't even make it through spring training. He got involved in a barroom brawl in Florida, lost the bonus and was fined an extra hundred to boot. For one day he quit baseball, during which time he explained to reporters that he was that rare kind of pitcher who could stay up all night drinking and then go out and throw a shutout.
Despite their common love of the fast, loose life—hard drinking, frequent fighting, late hours and casual friendships—the members of The Dalton Gang have widely different backgrounds. Meyer comes from a well-to-do New Jersey family and went to school at Philadelphia's Penn Charter School and Duke University. He is blond, good looking and he dresses well. "He can be pleasant one moment, mean the next," says a sportswriter. "He has a great need to be wanted and applauded."
Farrell is from a quiet, middle-class family that lives near Boston. He had polio as a boy, managed to overcome it, but still walks with a slight limp. He is big and tough, occasionally unfriendly, occasionally abusive.
Owens comes from a broken home. "His father used to come down to breakfast and put a bottle on the table," says a man who knows him. "Jim started drinking early."
"They're a wild bunch," one National League player said recently. "I don't believe there's anything they wouldn't try."
Mauch and Quinn cracked down heavily on Jack Meyer because the Phillies, while they are going nowhere this season, have many young and talented rookies. "It is up to the older players to set an example," Mauch has said. He knows that while barroom brawls may be fun, they don't win pennants.
Unlike some of the storied hell-raisers of old, the members of The Dalton Gang aren't really good enough to be so bad. Perhaps the fine Jack Meyer must pay will shock him and his friends into a more moderate way of life. If not, members of The Dalton Gang probably will find themselves riding elsewhere, and separately.