Monday, March 12, 2012
Milkman Jim Turner: 'I am your father'
Everyone loves an underdog in sports. That's why the sports media had a coverage-gasm over Jeremy Lin. And why a documentary was made about Dennis Quaid's brief pitching career1.
But Quaid has nothing on Milkman Jim Turner, who spent 14 season in the independent minor leagues before arriving as a 33-year-old rookie in 1937. In those 14 seasons, he won more than 200 games and threw more than 2700 innings.
When he debuted in 1937, he shocked the baseball world by winning 20 games on a mediocre Boston Bees club and leading the league in ERA, complete games, shutouts and WHIP. He would almost certainly have been Rookie of the Year if that prize had existed at the time. As it was, he finished 4th in the MVP voting behind established veterans (and future Hall of Famers) Joe "Ducky" Medwick, Gabby "Gabby" Hartnett and Carl "Telescoping" Hubbell.
Milkman struggled for a couple years afterward with the Bees, but he found his top form again in 1940 with the Cincinnati Reds. At 36 years old, Turner helped the Reds win the World Series.
If not for the war, he would almost certainly have been done after 1942. But because he was too old to be drafted, he hung around until 1945 as a reliever for the Yankees2. The Yankees sent him to the minors in 1946 and he was finally done pitching early in 1947 at the tender age of 43.
As many ballplayers of his era did, Jim Turner worked a steady job in the offseason. As his nickname would suggest, he delivered the goods weekly to the housewives of his hometown, Nashville. And if you're from that country music crossroads, he is probably your grandfather3.
1 Far be it from me to discourage cheering for underdogs; I, too, enjoy rooting for the plucky Tampa Bay Rays. And, if you believe the broadcasting coverage of the 2005 American League Division Series, my team of preference were the underdogs. Nevermind that they had the best record and pitching staff in the league that year; there was no way they could overcome the amazing story of The Nation. The narrative-creating national media will not be denied their story, whether or not it has any resemblance to reality.
2 This was a common theme in wartime baseball. With the peak-aged players mostly being drafted, teams hung onto players who would otherwise have been out of the game. It generated less-than-ideal competition on the field, but America's pastime carried on while the war raged. Go here for an Internet site dedicate solely to baseball during World War II.
3 Naturally, this is just another example of supposition. You wish your grandpa was as cool as Milkman Jim.