Bring a trio of former major leaguers together and prepare to get a taste of life in the clubhouse.
From spitters to steroids, all bases were covered Monday when ex-White Sox slugger Eric Soderholm, ex-Cubs catcher Randy Hundley and pitcher Bill Campbell spoke to a "History of Baseball" class at Harper College.
Wide-eyed fans, with shirts and caps making their allegiance clear, listened as the past players swapped war stories. This was an opportunity to get a glimpse into America's pastime from an insider's perspective.
Soderholm on Bill Veeck
Before Soderholm joined the South Side Hitmen in 1977 as a free agent, he wanted to make sure it felt right. So he stood on a foot of snow at third base and insisted on visiting the Sox owner, who Soderholm said was hospitalized for emphysema. "There he was holding a cigarette and an ashtray built into his wooden leg. I said, 'That's a guy I want to play for.' I loved him like a second father." After missing the entire 1976 season to injury, Veeck saw Soderholm in a utility role. Instead, Soderholm hit .280 with 25 home runs and was named American League Comeback Player of the Year.
Steroids and asterisks
All three oppose asterisks in the record books and say Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame, especially considering his steroid use hasn't been proven and owners turned a blind eye. In fact, they would have considered using substances themselves to keep from fading in September. "I caught 149 games my rookie year (1966) and couldn't hit the bloomin' warning track by the end of the season," Hundley said. "If there was something to make me last longer, you better believe my hillbilly fanny's gonna be on it." Campbell, who pitched for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 1985, said amphetamines were available on the trainer's table when he played. "Was that cheating then too?" Campbell asked. "Everybody's looking for the competitive edge."
The former major leaguers checked off a long list of players who got more movement on their pitches through scuff marks, Vaseline and other materials. Last year at an old-timers game, Gaylord Perry, notorious for his spitter, took the mound, Campbell said. "He's about 70 and he was still loading them up."
Hundley may not "cuss," but he's come up with his own vocabulary to fill in the blanks. Count bloomin', stinkin', mother, shucks and dog bummit among his favorites.
On bloated salaries
"If they can make that kind of money, that's fair," said Hundley, who spent 10 seasons with the Cubs and made $7,500 in his rookie year. The Cubs' player representative at one time, Hundley blames high salaries on owners outbidding each other. He recalls how worried Bruce Sutter was about how his teammates would react after he won arbitration and earned a $700,000 salary in 1980. "If these owners only knew we'd pay them to play," said Hundley.
Umpire Bruce Froemming
Hundley still talks heatedly about Froemming, who spoiled Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas' try for a perfect game in 1972. Pappas was one strike away against the Padres when Froemming issued a walk. "At least one of those was a strike," said Hundley, who was catching. "Nobody would have said anything and everybody would have gone home happy."
The toughest players
Soderholm admired Nolan Ryan's "wicked curve ball," while Campbell said Reggie Jackson and Rico Carty were tough. Hundley guessed he hit .050 against the great Dodgers pitching staff of the 1960s. "One night, it was a waste of time for me to even go to the plate against (Sandy) Koufax," Hundley said. "And the next game, I was proud just to hit a foul ball off Don Drysdale."
The elusive Hall of Fame
Cubs third baseman Ron Santo belongs there, said Hundley. His numbers are better than member Brooks Robinson, but Robinson played in four World Series. "Our ballclub had three Hall of Famers, but never won a pennant," he said. "That's probably what's keeping him out."