He wasn't with us after the last part o' May, but I roomed with him long enough to get the insomny. I was the only guy in the club game enough to stand for him; but I was sorry afterward that I done it, because it sure did put a crimp in my little old average.
—RING LARDNER My Roomy, 1924
The first "roommates" were Adam and Eve, and as you know, that didn't work out too well. Some problem with apples and snakes, which isn't as unusual between roommates, especially of the sports variety, as you might think.
Former Ram Defensive End Fred Dryer, for example, used to drive his roommates crazy in training camp by boiling up vegetables. "The smell was everywhere," says former Ram Quarterback Ron Jaworski. If it's not apples, it's asparagus. And Art Spinney once scared the considerable pants off his old Colt roommate, Artie Donovan. He told Donovan there was a cold six-pack of beer under the covers of his bed, but it wasn't a six-pack. It was a dead groundhog. If it's not snakes, it's groundhogs. Or bats. Spinney's teammate Alex Sandusky once threw a live bat into a room where the Colts' Buddy Young was, and Young jumped out the window.
Yes, there are eight million roommate stories out there, and what follows are but a few of them. No doubt some of the best and the juiciest are lost to the shadow of time and the cloak of anonymity. Or they've already been reported by Jim Bouton. Rooming with somebody is one of the common experiences of the American athlete and, probably, athletes the world over. True, Homer, the first sports-writer, made no mention of roommates in his writings, but then the Greeks made fewer road trips. We must conclude that Grecian shotputters never addressed each other with that classic term, rooms. Tom Seaver and Buddy Harrelson, who used to room together on the Mets, still do. And so do many other roommates, past and present.
May 1, 1983
There are many fine reasons for pairing up two large men in a small hotel room on the road, or in a small dormitory room during training camp: They can discuss strategy, they can keep each other's mind on business, they can bolster each other's confidence, etc. But the bottom line is usually the bottom line—that is, two to a room is cheaper.
As player salaries have increased, the roommate concept has waned, particularly in baseball, where it was most common. Rooming alone was not unknown in previous generations—Ted Williams and Willie Mays both had single rooms almost from the start of their careers—but now it's not just All-Stars who have that privilege. Probably 90% of today's baseball players room alone on the road, usually paying the difference between the single-room charge and half of the double-room charge out of their own pockets. It generally runs to no more than $1,000 a season, and it's deductible as a business expense. Some players even have singles written into their contracts, and rare indeed is the superstar who has a roommate. One who does is the Brewers' Robin Yount, who says, "One reason I haven't asked for a single room is that Bob McClure and I have such good times together."
Most players would rather room alone for the obvious reason. "There's more privacy," says Milwaukee Pitcher Moose Haas. "You can come and go as you please. Bill Travers [who was traded to California in 1981] and I did everything together when he was with us, but we had adjoining rooms. We'd leave the connecting door open and use both." Two close room-alone friends on the Yankees, Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, do the same thing.
Ballplayers have reasons other than privacy for rooming separately these days. Players used to talk baseball constantly; now they have more on their minds than the game, and they have agents, lawyers and stockbrokers to converse with. Oh, an occasional oddball like Pete Rose will talk about his average against lefthanders on windy days in May, but he'll also discourse on the Mizuno line of sporting goods, which he endorses, if you care to listen.
Roommates are currently more prevalent in pro basketball and hockey. While several teams—the Lakers and the Bucks, to name two—have single rooms on the road, other NBA clubs have at least one or two roommate combinations. Most NHL teams double up their players, sometimes on a rotating basis. That may have started with the legendary Canadien coach, Toe Blake, a superstitious man who frequently changed the roommate lineup after a loss and kept it the same if his team was hot. Even the Great Gretzky has a roommate when the Edmonton Oilers take to the road.
Roommates are also still the rule in pro football, where an element of palace control remains. It would be difficult for teams to provide single rooms for the 100 or so candidates they parade in for training camp, some of whom will be around just about long enough for a cup of coffee and a wind sprint, though during the season there are some NFL players who by virtue of superstar or veteran status get single rooms.
Football coaches still have the idea that players are going to talk strategy and motivation when they're alone together, and to that end, quarterbacks are often matched with quarterbacks, offensive linemen with offensive linemen, and so on. Maybe they do talk strategy and motivation; most probably they discuss Gilligan's Island reruns. In any case, for even the most solitary of players, rooming together is less of a burden in football. Nowadays, visiting teams generally don't arrive until the late afternoon of the day before a game. By the time the team meal and all the meetings are over, there's barely enough time even to discuss the Thespian qualities of Bob Denver before lights-out.
A movie about the broad spectrum of roommate life would be no blockbuster. Perhaps Andy Warhol, who once focused a single camera for eight hours on a sleeping man and called it a film, might like to direct this one. He could pan in on two men sitting shirtless on twin beds, one with a bag of potato chips at hand. A playbook, the local newspapers, a bunch of magazines and maybe The Sporting News would lie nearby; a copy of Thomas Pynchon's latest novel wouldn't be part of the scene.
The television set would be on. Often it is TV that makes or breaks a roommate relationship. Back in the '60s, Cleveland pitchers Gary Bell and Jack Kralick once came to blows over what show to watch, and Eagle linebackers Bill Bergey and Frank LeMaster "broke up" over the tube. Bergey felt that LeMaster, who was younger, should turn on the TV and change the channels. And Bergey liked to watch game shows and soap operas between 12:30 and 2 p.m., LeMaster's time to catch a nap at training camp.
On the other hand, Mike Caldwell and Jamie Easterly of the Brewers were almost perfectly matched roomies, once they pretty much settled the soap-opera issue. "We had to switch off and on on our soaps," Easterly reports. "Mike liked the ones on CBS, I liked the ones on ABC. I watched the ones at 2, he watched the ones at 3." And you thought war was hell.
Though it lacked the zest, not to mention the sales, of Bouton's Ball Four, Bill Bradley's Life on the Run is perhaps the best study of roommate life in the pros. Bradley wrote of the "overpowering feeling of loneliness on the road." He mentioned the ability he and his roommate, Dave DeBusschere, managed to develop to tune out each other's telephone conversations. And, yes, he even wrote about the TV set—DeBusschere liked it on, while the future senior Senator from New Jersey preferred the radio.
"Don't never call me a bug again. They got me roomin' with the champion o' the world."
"Who is he?" I says.
"I don't know and I don't want to know," says Heine; "but if they stick him in there with me again I'll jump to the Federals."
FOUR ROOMMATE STORIES THAT EVERYONE TELLS
•Oft-told tale No. 1 concerns Babe Ruth, a legendary carouser who by most accounts spent no great amount of time in his hotel room on the road. As early as 1920, his first year with the Yankees, that reputation was established—with a little help from his roommate, veteran Outfielder Ping Bodie. Asked about Ruth as a roommate, Bodie responded, "I don't room with him. I room with his suitcase." Several of Ruth's roommates have been credited with the line, but Robert Creamer's Babe, the authoritative biography of the Yankee immortal, gives the nod to Bodie.
•The roommate-with-a-harelip story is most often told about the Red Sox, Indian and Pirate pitcher of the 1930s and '40s, Jim Bagby Jr., but any ballplayer with a speech impediment turns up in this one. It seems that one night, when Boston Manager Joe Cronin was conducting a room check by telephone, Bagby tried to cover for his hell-raising roommate, the late Jim Tabor.
"Everything O.K.?" asked Cronin. "Let me speak to Tabe."
Bagby laid down the phone, made some noises and picked it up again.
"Hello, Thkip," said Bagby. "Thith ith Tabe."
•Oft-told tale No. 3 develops this theme: Manager rooms steady, conservative veteran with screwball youngster in hopes of straightening out the latter, but it works the other way, with the vet adopting the youngster's bad habits. Howard Fox, the Minnesota Twins' executive vice-president, tells a version starring Infielder Frank Quilici as the veteran and Pitcher Dave Boswell as the kid, whom Fox matched up in the late '60s.
George Halas, when he coached the Bears, took the opposite approach. He occasionally roomed bons vivants together, reasoning that one of them was going to have to stay in the room and answer the knock on the door or the phone-call bed check after curfew. "This would cut down on night life by 50 percent," said Chuck Mather, a former Halas assistant. No wonder Papa Bear is in the Hall of Fame.
•In oft-told tale No. 4, two roommates of opposite intellectual capabilities are reading in bed. One finishes a comic book, slaps it down, and says to the other, "Well, how did yours come out?" The other, of course, is reading a medical textbook. The story is most frequently told about Bobby Brown, then a student at Tulane med school, and Yogi Berra, who roomed with Brown in 1946 on the Yankees' Newark farm team. Did it actually happen?
"Well, yes, it did," says Brown, who's now a doctor in Fort Worth.
The stories are not necessarily apocryphal, just oft-told.
Before the trainin' trip was over, Elliott had roomed with pretty near everybody in the club...They all said he was crazy and they was afraid he'd get violent some night and stick a knife in 'em.
SOME STRANGE MATCHES
•Linebacker Mike Curtis and Center Bill Curry roomed together on the Colts from 1967 to 1972. Curry was one of the leaders of the NFL Players Association, and Curtis was the resident anti-union hardnose. Curtis, in fact, was one of a handful of regulars who crossed the picket line in training camp during the 1970 work stoppage. He kept a big picture of Richard Nixon in his locker at the stadium, an image that still haunts Curry.
The relationship really didn't work out badly. They argued their positions heatedly in the privacy of their room, but say they never came to blows or even threw anything at each other. Actually, they were similar in some ways, their union feelings notwithstanding. Both were family men, somewhat religious and intense about the game.
•Ted Kluszewski and Albie Pearson roomed together for a while on the Los Angeles Angels in 1961. Klu stood 6'2" and weighed a solid 230 pounds, while Pearson, one of the smallest major-leaguers ever, went 5'5" and 140. Klu used to suggest that Pearson sleep in one of the bureau drawers while he pushed the beds together for himself, and one night he actually tried to stuff Pearson into a drawer. But the big man had a subtler sense of humor, too. Sometimes he'd get into a hotel dining room early and order a high chair and a plate of Pablum for Pearson.
•It was in the spring of 1963 that Baltimore Colt Coach Don Shula called Alex Hawkins with the warning: Don Shinnick wants to room with you in training camp. There are numerous variations on the good-boy-bad-boy roommate theme, but none better than this. Hawkins was one of football's certifiable wild men—"I'm one of the few who spoke Joe Don Looney's language," he says today—while Shinnick was an ultra-serious member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"I knew the master plan he [Shinnick] had in mind," says Hawkins, who until recently owned a restaurant in Marietta, Ga. "What he wanted was to convert me. I was their side's No. 1 draft pick."
Only Hawkins had already signed with the other league. Each night after lights-out, Shinnick would start preaching about Jesus Christ and the Bible. This lasted for some two weeks, until the night Hawkins began preaching on two of his favorite subjects—gambling and women.
"Shinnick moved out very quickly after that," says Hawkins.
Among Hawkins' other roommates were Looney himself—a pairing that was broken off by the Colts after a few wild days in training camp in 1964—and Andy Nelson, a defensive back who, according to Hawkins, was given to drinking shaving lotion.
"I used to do it just to get a rise out of my roommate," Nelson says, and he certainly did.
"The funny thing was, Andy didn't have a drinking problem," says Hawkins. "He just liked shaving lotion. To this day I can't use that stuff because I start thinking about Andy."
•Another weird roomie mismatch was Jimmy Rayl and the late Reggie Harding, who were thrown together by the ABA Indiana Pacers during the 1967-68 season. Rayl, from Kokomo, Ind., still holds Indiana University's single-game scoring record of 56 points. Harding, on the other hand, was a 7-foot kid from the Detroit ghetto who never played college ball. He died in September '72 of gunshot wounds suffered after an argument outside a friend's home in Detroit.
Rayl remembers a night in New Orleans when he turned on the light in their room and was more than a little startled to see Harding pointing a .38 caliber police revolver at him. He asked for, and got, the gun, which he returned to Harding after removing the bullets. Harding just grinned and reached for his shaving kit. "There must've been at least 200 bullets in there," says Rayl.
But the next day they had a pretty good laugh about it, and Harding never pointed the gun at him again. "Actually, I ended up feeling like we were friends," says Rayl.
Then John [the manager] says: "I wisht you 'd try Elliott. The other boys all kicks on him, but he seems to hang round you a lot and I b'lieve you could get along all right."
"Why don't you room him alone?" I ast.
"The boss or the hotels won't stand for us roomin' alone," says John. "You go ahead and try it, and see how you make out."
SOME GOOD MATCHES
•Frank Robinson has a reputation for being hard to get along with, but Vada Pinson demurs. They roomed together in Cincinnati for several years in the early '60s, and "We had similar tastes," Pinson says. "We liked the same television shows. We liked to relax. We even liked the same food. When we'd call room service, we'd just order two of everything. Things were never the same after Frank left."
•For pure excitement, that almost matches the made-in-heaven pairing of Lou Gehrig and Joe Sewell, who roomed together for a few years in the early '30s, after Sewell was acquired by the Yanks after being released from Cleveland. At 84, Sewell is still in excellent health and working in public relations for a dairy company in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"We had no night life," Sewell says. "We wouldn't even have a glass of beer. We went to bed about 9 o'clock every night. You know, if I was talking to the President of the United States at 9 o'clock, I'd just have to excuse myself and go to bed. And Lou was the same way. We seldom even went to a picture show. We'd get up about 7 a.m., have a good breakfast and a light lunch, then go to the ball park, come back, eat dinner and talk baseball till 9. You know, I haven't been to a picture show in, I bet, 25 years."
•Julius Erving and Steve Mix would not appear to be ideally matched, the former a black, smooth superstar who plays with finesse, the latter a white, tough journeyman whose game is strength. But they roomed together for two years on the 76ers until Mix became a free agent last season and signed with Milwaukee.
Erving joined the Sixers in 1976 after they had had a successful 7-1 exhibition season without him, and several of the Philly players. Mix included, resisted his presence. "I didn't feel we needed him," says Mix. It didn't help that Mix had lost his starting job the minute Erving strolled into the gym. But, gradually, their relationship grew, partly through the friendship of their wives, Maryalice Mix and Turquoise Erving, who sat together at the games.
"We turned out to be similar in a lot of ways," said Mix before leaving for Milwaukee. "That's the first thing you look for, compatibility. We both eat and sleep at about the same time. On the road, we'll get up around 10:30, eat around 1:30, go to bed around 12:30 or 1. We try to keep everything consistent."
Still, for fun, Mix and Erving used to have impromptu wrestling matches a la Clouseau and Cato in the Pink Panther movies.
"Can you sing?" I says; and I was sorry right afterward that I ast him that question.
I guess it must of been bad enough to have the water runnin' night after night and to have him wavin' that razor round; but that couldn't of been nothin' to his singin'.
SOME FAMOUS PAIRINGS
•Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman were, in their day, the quintessential backcourt combination, the playmaker who needed a sharpshooter and the sharpshooter who needed a playmaker. They apparently teamed well together off-court, too, judging by their nine-year roommate relationship (1952-60).
Each had his cross to bear, however.
Cousy: "Bill was extremely, extremely regimented and disciplined, much more than I was. You know, exercises before the game and all that sort of thing. He had to eat precisely at 4 o'clock on a game night. Then he'd have to go back to the room and nap until precisely 5:45, and then go down to the dining room and get some tea or hot water and lemon or some damn thing. This stuff didn't mean anything to me, but, gradually, I just went along with it."
But naps and tea were nothing compared to what Sharman had to endure because of Cousy's legendary sleepwalking. And sleepwalking.
Sharman: "Since Bob had learned to speak French before English, he would usually combine both languages into a weird, eerie sound that was really frightening when I was awakened from a deep sleep. One night he was out of bed, naked and carrying a book around the room with him. It sounded like he was giving a very formal speech. With the words all mumbled—and in two languages, to boot—I couldn't understand what he was talking about. But later I just told him he sounded great and would make a very good politician. On other occasions, he would call out a lot of the Celtic plays or use some basketball terminology in most of his sentences."
Cousy himself tells the tale of his accidentally beaning Sharman when he lashed out and knocked over a table lamp during a nightmare in New York City. The following night Cousy dreamed that an intruder was standing in the corner of their room. "You sonovabitch, I see you, I see you!" he shouted, all the while fumbling for the table lamp to turn on the light and surprise the man. When he finally hit the switch and woke himself up, there was the unfortunate Sharman cowering under the covers, expecting another beaning.
•Lefty Gomez recalls that his famous roommate, Joe DiMaggio, was quite calm and collected during his record 56-game consecutive hitting streak in 1941. "But every day after 44 I threw up my breakfast."
Gomez and DiMaggio were a good match if only because Gomez' non-stop tongue took the pressure off the quiet, sometimes moody DiMaggio. "It's not that Joe didn't talk, it's just that I didn't give him enough time to," Gomez says.
"We went to a lot of movies and things like that. There wasn't a lot going on in those days. We'd talk baseball all the time, but we had other interests, too, like comedies and what was in the newspapers. We weren't a bunch of recluses or anything."
Gomez, at 74 a member of the advisory board of Wilson Sporting Goods, has a little fun with DiMaggio in the talks he makes around the country on Wilson's behalf. A favorite: "Joe loved the comics. He couldn't wait to get down to the newsstands every morning and find out what happened to Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy. I'd read them to him, and then he'd explain them to Yogi Berra."
DiMaggio never seems to mind. "I've heard his stories a thousand times, but they're always funny," he says.
•Dick Ritger and Wayne Zahn, both Hall of Fame bowlers, may have the roommate longevity record. They bunked together at every stop on the PBA tour from 1965 to 1980, the year they both stopped touring full time.
This was another Sewell-Gehrig type of pairing. Neither did much drinking or carousing, neither was a television junkie, and neither was a spendthrift, though Ritger admits he was a little tighter with a buck. "I was the kind of guy that if we'd each owe $1.78 on a bill and Wayne would give me $2, I'd make sure he'd get his 220 back," says Ritger.
Only twice in their 15 years together did they both make it to the top five head-to-head spots in a TV tournament final, and even then they didn't face each other. There was a reason, Ritger says. He was a soft stroker and Zahn was more of a power bowler, so they tended to do well on contrasting types of alleys.
•Another set of famous roommates, Australians Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, were sharing a flat when they met for the Wimbledon title in 1965. Stolle and Emerson frequently roomed together in those days. Their custom was to trade off cooking breakfast. On the morning of the final, it was Emerson's turn. The newspapers snapped pictures of Emerson with an apron, Stolle with the morning newspaper. First, Emerson scrambled the eggs, and then he went out and scrambled Stolle, winning in straight sets.
•For 13 years (1951-63) on the Boston and Milwaukee Braves it was "Spahn and Burdette, a roommate set." On the road they hung out with another noted pair, Third Baseman Eddie Mathews and Pitcher Bob Buhl, who were also longtime roomies.
Despite their superstar status, neither Spahn nor Burdette ever considered getting a single room. "We had a slogan," says Spahn. "It was 'Anything you can do, I can do better.' That's the type of relationship we had. Very competitive, but it never meant we were professionally jealous."
Burdette was instrumental in getting Spahn to throw the screwball, a pitch that undoubtedly helped extend his career until 1965, when he was 44. But he could never master his roomie's favorite, the spitter. "I had a helluva spitter in the bullpen, but I just couldn't throw it right in the games," Spahn says.
Spahn always felt there was something special about their relationship. "You know, I never threw a no-hitter until I was 39 years old," he says. "It came against the Phillies [on Sept. 15, 1960], and a month earlier Lou had thrown his first [and only] one against the same club. I always felt I would never have gotten mine if he hadn't done it first."
"Well," he says, "if I can't play no more I want to go to sleep, and you fellers will have to get out o' this room."
Did you ever hear o' nerve like that? This was the first night he'd came in before twelve and he orders the bunch out so's he can sleep! We politely suggested to him to go to Brooklyn.
SOME SNIPPETS FROM ROOMMATE LIFE
•Wes Covington reports that one of his roommates on the Cubs in 1966, Infielder Roberto Pena, insisted on running hot water in the shower all night because he was used to the hot, humid climate of his native Dominican Republic. Covington soon moved out.
•Denver Bronco Coach Dan Reeves sounded very much like his roommate on the Cowboys, Walt Garrison. On the telephone, even Garrison's fiancée couldn't tell them apart, a situation the roomies exploited. "I'd say, 'Goodby sweetheart, see ya' tomorrow,' " remembers Reeves, "and she'd tell me she loved me." Reeves and Garrison were kind enough to finally tell her about it before the wedding day.
•Cubs General Manager Dallas Green, a former Phillies pitcher, was in the buff on one occasion when he answered a knock at the door of the hotel room he shared with Pitcher Dick Farrell in the early '60s. The visitor was a woman who said Farrell had told her to come in and wait for him. Green let her in. The next day Green received a pair of silk pajamas from Farrell, a rounder who nevertheless felt there were limits.
•San Francisco 49er guards Randy Cross and John Ayers live together in training camp, and their teammates wouldn't want it any other way. They both use DMSO, and nobody else can stand the smell.
•In an early game in St. Louis last season, Lonnie Smith of the Cardinals got three straight hits off Cub Pitcher Dickie Noles, with whom he roomed in the minors, with the Phillies and in Venezuela during winter ball. On Smith's fourth plate appearance, Noles, who has a reputation for being a headhunter, plunked him in the left arm.
"He didn't hit me on purpose," said Smith. "I could see by the way he threw it that it slipped."
"I didn't hit him on purpose, but after he got three hits off me, I told him I hoped his arm hurt for a week," said Noles.
•Art Fowler, Billy Martin's personal pitching coach, who was once a pitcher for the Angels, recalls the time he found his roommate, Ryne Duren, engaged in a heated argument with a floor lamp. Duren would take a swing at the lamp, and each time it would bounce back for more. Fowler says he slept in the lobby that night. This story is somewhat suspect in that Fowler, who never met a cocktail he didn't like, was not above arguing with floor lamps himself.
•Cowboy Linebacker Bob Breunig says his former roommate, Roger Staubach, was such a light sleeper that he used to pin the curtains closed and put a piece of tape over the message light on the phone. Breunig says that if he so much as coughed during the night, Staubach would sit bolt upright.
•Former Chicago Cub Third Baseman Ron Santo once received a death threat, which prompted his roommate, Second Baseman Glenn Beckert, to post a large sign on his bed that read: I'M BECKERT. Roommate loyalty goes just so far.
•As a Minnesota Twins rookie in 1967, Rod Carew found it rather difficult rooming with Earl Battey. Battey would get, in the words of Carew, "tied up" with a woman at all kinds of strange hours. "He'd ask me to leave the room at 7 in the morning, and I'd have to go sit in the lobby," Carew reports. "All dressed up at 7 a.m. People would think I was just getting in." Worse, Battey didn't even try to fix Carew up.
•A New York Jet coach making bed checks during a road trip in 1970 walked into a rookie's room, saw him in bed and marked his name down. "I'm here, too, Coach" came a different voice from the same bed. It belonged to Wide Receiver Eddie Bell, who had been assigned with Running Back Clifford McClain to the same one-bed room. They were rookies who didn't want to make trouble and figured that was the way it was in the pros.
•Joe Moeller, who was a member of the Koufax-Drysdale Dodger pitching staff for five years, used to stand in front of a full-length mirror and practice his delivery by throwing a baseball full speed against a mattress propped up against the wall of his hotel room. One night, one of his throws hit the corner of the mattress and took a strange bounce into the lamp beside roommate Dick Tracewski's bed. It shattered the lamp and just missed Tracewski's head. Obviously Moeller should have roomed with Cousy.
•An unmarried roommate is invaluable. When George Allen was coaching the Rams, he would often call a player's wife if he saw that player with a woman—which is why Dick Bass would be seen in public with two women on his arm, one for him and one for his roommate.
•NBC Broadcaster and former Bengal Tight End Bob Trumpy remembers a game called Human Billiards that he used to play with his roommate, Center Bob Johnson. It involved one player banking a rubber ball off at least two walls to strike the other player. One night at 2 a.m. they were making such a racket that Assistant Coach Chuck Studley came to find out what was going on. After they explained the game to him, Studley hung around for another half hour, coaching them on technique.
My roomy blows in about nine and got the letter from John out of his box. He was goin' to tear it up, but I told him they was news in it....
He had kind o' crazy look in his eyes; so when he starts up to the room I follows him.
"What are you goin' to do now?" I says.
"I'm going to sell this ticket to Atlanta, " he says, "and go back to Muskegon, where I belong."
RACE AND THE ART OF ROOMING
•Proverb Jacobs, a tackle from the University of California, was one of three blacks in the 1963 Oakland Raider training camp. Jacobs decided that the other two would be kept but that his chances were doubtful, so he went to Al Davis, then the Raider coach, and asked to be cut, even though Jacobs figured he was better than many of the white candidates.
"I know you need an even number of Negroes for rooming on the road," Jacobs said, "and I'd be the extra man." Davis assured him there would be no such quota system, and Jacobs made the team.
In point of fact, however, there used to be a quota system in all pro sports. "That's why you'd usually see an even number of blacks on teams," says former Brooklyn Pitcher Carl Erskine. It was one thing to ask a black player to lay down a sacrifice bunt for a white teammate, quite another to allow him to room with a white. Black-black combinations, like Roy Campanella-Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson-Dan Bankhead, were much more common. Robinson, for all his trailblazing, never had a white roommate in the majors.
Marion Motley, the Hall of Fame Cleveland fullback, for example, might never have gotten a chance with the Browns had they not needed a black roommate for Bill Willis, a guard drafted out of Ohio State in 1946 and the first black in the old All-America Football Conference.
By the time the first black was drafted into the NBA—Chuck Cooper by the Celtics in 1950—baseball had taken some of the heat off the race issue. Basketball was forced from the beginning to mix roommates racially because its quota system pretty much restricted a team to one black. "They said they didn't have a quota system, but they did," says Jack Nichols, a white, a former Celtic and the first roommate of a hotshot rookie named William Felton Russell.
Cooper's first roommate was Cousy, who had written his senior thesis at Holy Cross on the persecution of minority groups. He could've added a chapter on Charlotte, N.C., where Cooper was denied a room in the hotel where the team was to stay during an exhibition game. Cooper was so discouraged that after the game, instead of joining the rest of the Celtics at their hotel, he and Cousy jumped on an all-night sleeper to New York City, where they caught a morning flight to Boston.
It's probably impossible to pinpoint the first pair of racially mixed roommates: Maybe it was Branch Rickey, then a coach at Ohio Wesleyan, and a black player named Charlie Thomas, who shared Rickey's hotel room one night in 1904 after Thomas had been refused his own accommodations in South Bend, Ind. Campanella and Joe Tuminelli, a white utility infielder, were briefly assigned a room together while playing on the Dodger's Nashua, N.H. farm club in the New England League in the spring of 1946. Buddy Young and Zollie Toth roomed together on the Colts in the early '50s. Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch came to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967, to battle for the same middle linebacker job (Lanier won it) and remained roommates for several years. Bobby Bryant, a white from Macon, Ga., and Alan Page, a black from Canton, Ohio, were longtime roomies on the Vikes. Art Powell and Jack Kemp were a mixed pair on the Buffalo Bills in '67, and Brig Owens and Jerry Smith roomed together for several years on the Redskins, beginning in the mid-'60s. Curt Blefary said he received a lot of publicity and hate mail after he chose the late Don Wilson as a roommate when they played for the Astros back in 1969. Reggie Jackson and Pitcher Chuck Dobson were another early black-white combo when they roomed together on the Oakland A's in the late '60s. There are dozens of such combos in all sports these days, though they aren't all that common, considering the percentage of black players in pro sports.
Perhaps the most unlikely combination occurred on the Vancouver White-caps of the NASL during the 1979 and '80 seasons. It matched Carl Valentine, a black of Jamaican ancestry, and Bruce Grobbelaar, a white South African who as a soldier had fought black Rhodesian insurgents. Grobbelaar left to play First Division soccer in England after the '80 season, but they've remained close friends.
Both players felt a certain amount of apprehension about the pairing, which had been suggested by Whitecap management. Grobbelaar's was intensified when he went to meet Valentine as the latter arrived at the Vancouver airport to join the club.
"Right before I came off the plane, this big black dude, maybe 6'6" and all muscle, came walking by Bruce," says Valentine. "He thought that was his roomie."
They used to joke about Grobbelaar's former profession, but they never discussed the subject in a serious way, according to Valentine. "Bruce was what you call a tracker," says Valentine. "He used to track down the guerrilla blacks in the jungle. It was just unfortunate for him. He was 18 when he was called into the army, and he had no choice."
Neither player was particularly political, so neither was fundamentally changed by the experience. "The only thing that changed was my habits," says Valentine. "Bruce was a very hyper person who lived sort of from day to day. He was always on the go, always up until three in the morning, and gradually I just went along with him. I always tell everyone I was such a quiet lad until I met Bruce."
Back in Muskegon, Elliott, the crazy roommate of the Lardner story, has taken a baseball bat to the head of the woman who jilted him and the man she married. He intended to kill them both, but just missed.
That's all of it, fellers; and you can see I had some excuse for not hittin'. You can also see why I ain't never goin' to room with no bug again—not for John or nobody else!