Blessed in the Outfield and at Home
An Interview with former St. Louis Browns Outfielder Jim Delsing
Jim Delsing, former St. Louis Browns outfielder. Photograph, 1950–1952. Missouri History Museum.
The late Jim Delsing was a natural-born athlete from Wisconsin who left home at age 16 in 1942 to play professional baseball. After being drafted to serve in World War II, he made his major-league debut as an outfielder with the Chicago White Sox in 1948. He played for several teams during his baseball career, including the St. Louis Browns from 1950 to 1952. Although he was a Brown for barely more than one full season, his memories of that team and its owner lasted him a lifetime.
For the interview below, which was conducted in March 2005—a little more than a year before his death—Delsing and his wife, Roseanne, sat down with Dr. Robert R. Archibald, President of the Missouri History Museum, and recalled some of their favorite memories of a baseball era gone by.
This interview has been edited for publication. We begin when he was traded from the New York Yankees to the Browns during a road trip in St. Louis in 1950, the year after winning the major-league pennant with the Yankees.
JIM DELSING: Let me tell you about our experience coming to St. Louis. I was with the Yankees and we were traded here—well, when we came to St. Louis we were traded, so we went from one clubhouse to the other.
ROBERT R. ARCHIBALD: And you had no say in this at all?
ROSEANNE DELSING: Oh no.
RRA: You just woke up and found out that you were moving to St. Louis?
RD: You’re gone, and that was it. This was long before Curt Flood got the free agency thing. You were traded, it was—someone used to say, “It’s like you’re animals.” You know, if somebody does not want you anymore, they would put you somewhere else. I said, “We don’t look at it that way. We look at it that somebody wants us more than where we were.”
JD: I played a series here with the Browns against the Yankees, and then St. Louis said I could go back—I asked to go back to New York to pick up Roseanne. So, we drove down here and we were looking for a place to live, and we had been staying at the Fairgrounds Hotel.
RRA: Where was that?
|Sportsman's Park was home to the St. Louis Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball teams from 1920 to 1954. Postcard by the Tichnor Brothers, ca. 1943. Missouri History Museum.|
RD: A block and a half from the ballpark, from Sportsman’s Park.
JD: Natural Bridge and Grand.
RRA: Is that building still there?
JD: Yeah, it’s still there. But anyhow, we were looking and it was so hot and everything, so we decided to go to a movie and get in the air conditioning. Our car was not air conditioned, was it?
RD: I don’t know.
JD: But anyhow, we parked the car. This is one, twelve, oh, one o’clock in the afternoon. We parked our car on Grand Avenue, about a block and a half up from the Fox Theatre. Was it the Fox? Yeah. Well, we go to the movie and we come out, they broke in our car and stole all our wedding gifts and everything we had.
RD: Whatever luggage that we had not taken into the hotel was gone.
JD: So, that was our introduction.
RD: I’m not sure we even called the police.
JD: Oh yeah, because you said for me to be quiet when I was talking to the policeman.
RD: [Laughter] I got away with it then. I would not get away with that now.
RRA: So, you rented an apartment then?
RD: Actually, there was a guy on the Browns that was traded and went down to a minor-league team, which I think was in Baltimore?
JD: No, San Antonio. No, maybe it was, I don’t know.
RD: But anyway, he had a little house in Jennings, and so we moved into that. And we lived there for, oh, I guess a couple of years. And he was on the road, and Jill Sievers was a very good friend [of] mine. Her husband, Roy Sievers, was with the ball club and they were gone, and we decided that we would go look at a house. And they were building some houses and this was way out in North County. And I saw this spot kind of on a hill and I thought, gee, wouldn’t that be neat. So, we went in and just were sitting there talking to the people and I put $25 down on that house.
RRA: And he’s out of town?
RD: Oh yeah, and then [I] panicked. I was so worried. I thought that he was going to divorce me all over. For me to—I mean nothing was built. There wasn’t even a hole in the ground yet.
RRA: So, this was a developer who you put money down on a house they were going to build?
RD: In a subdivision. They had said it would be ready by September. And then in January it still was not ready and we were headed for spring training.
RRA: How many years were you here?
JD: From 1950, and we left here in August of 1952.
| Leroy "Satchel" Paige signing a contract with St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck.
Photograph, 1951. Missouri History Museum.
RD: But you should tell him about Bill Veeck.
RRA: So, Bill Veeck was the manager when you came?
JD: Bill Veeck was the owner.
RRA: Veeck was a real character, wasn’t he?
JD: I guess you’ve got to call him a character, yeah. But, you know, the thing about this is he was—you know, he had the wooden leg and you didn’t know if he was going to come out in shorts and take his leg off and put it aside or something. But he just loved to be at the ballpark. You know, they had an apartment at the ballpark.
RRA: Part of the ballpark?
JD: Part of the ballpark, behind home plate. They lived there. Well see, his dad was affiliated with the Cubs for years, and so I think he grew up in the ballpark. And he just loved it. Anything with baseball he was interested in. But, he always had the mind of things to promote and things like that. And the other owners in the league really disliked him because they thought he was probably making a mockery of the game or something like that. Just like one Sunday we played a double-header and he brought in a portable basketball hoop and we played the Globetrotters and then turned around and played a baseball game.
RRA: You guys didn’t do very well?
JD: Well, we played. [Laughter]
RRA: Was that because the Browns did not attract a very large audience?
RD: But, he loved the fans. He wanted to entertain them. He was one of the first with all the fireworks, wasn’t he?
JD: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right, he started the fireworks. He did a lot of things. A lot of these things are very funny.
RRA: I can’t believe that, the Harlem Globetrotters and a basketball court…
RD: I have pictures. They had uniforms and everything.
RRA: Basketball uniforms?
JD: Oh certainly.
RRA: What did the players think about this?
Eddie Gaedel seated with other Browns baseball players in the dugout. On August 19, 1951, owner Bill Veeck sent in 3 foot, 7 inch Gaedel to pinch-hit during a game against Detroit. He walked on four pitches, and Jim Delsing came in to pinch-run for him. Photograph by Dorrill Photographers, 1951. Missouri History Museum.
JD: You know, we expected something every day and we got it. [Laughter] You know, just like with the midget and things like that.
RD: You never expected that.
RRA: So, he was a guy that just really loved the game?
JD: He just loved the game. I was with him twice. In Milwaukee he always wore the sport shirts. White sport shirts, that was his trademark. He never had a tie on. So, we had this big banquet in Milwaukee before the season started…
RRA: Did he live in Wisconsin? Was his home in Wisconsin? Was he from Wisconsin?
JD: No, he was from that area. I think he was from Chicago. And anyhow, some lady was in the stands and wrote him a real nasty letter, because he came to this so-called banquet with no tie. Apparently, she had this address or something on this letter and he found out that she was not wearing a hat, so he bought 12 hats and sent them to her. And he said, “When you wear these hats, I’ll wear a tie.” [Laughter] But these things were just so common. You would make a good play or something like that, there would be a gift certificate sticking out of your pocket or your locker.
RRA: Very strange. I met Bill Veeck, and obviously I was much younger, but he showed up in Plainwell, Michigan, to give a talk to a bunch of athletes when I was kid. And I remember seeing him and I was just absolutely enthralled with him.
JD: Oh yeah, he is fascinating.
RRA: I wonder what—I mean I suppose he sold the Browns because he was losing money hand over fist?
RD: Well, I think it was even more than that, wasn’t it?
JD: Well, there were a lot of unhappy people here in St. Louis when they sold the Browns.
RD: One of the funny things that happened here, Zack Taylor was manager and they were not doing well, to say the least. And so, Bill Veeck got in a rocking chair and they put the rocking chair on top of the dugout and then they handed out cards to fans of what player they wanted to see. You know, whether they wanted to see them take or hit or whatever.
JD: They used to say, “You never saw…you never believed”—no, I don’t know how it went.
|St. Louis Browns scorecard, May 1952. Missouri History Museum.
RD: Well, the headlines from the Boston paper said, “You’ve never lived until you see the Browns play. After you have seen them play, you don’t want to live.” [Laughter]
JD: You know the amazing part about it is…
RRA: This is, for your information, “First in shoes, first in booze, last in the American League.” [Laughter]
JD: Well, the thing about it, we played two games in Boston and they scored 20-some runs against us. I think they scored 20-some runs in two games and the third day we beat them two to one. And then that same time we go to Cleveland, with their pitching staff, they had [Bob] Lemon, [Early] Wynn, [Mike] Garcia, [Bob] Feller, and we beat them three out of four. And then we would go someplace and get beat for five or six games in a row. So, you never knew what was going on. The Boston paper said that and then the next day we beat them two to one. They didn’t say a word about that.
RRA: After this experience were you glad to be going to Detroit?
JD: Well, you know, the thing about it is, I guess so. You know, we did not realize the difference in … no, I wasn’t real happy. We had just bought this home and…
RD: We didn’t even have the telephones connected.
RD: Yeah, when we moved into the house. I was on top of the stove preparing this cabinet above the stove and putting shelf paper in and had the radio on and found out that Jim was traded. It was an off day. [Looking at Jim] You were in Cleveland.
JD: We were in Cleveland. We had an off day, which is very unusual and we were out playing golf.
RD: At some kind of a charity.
JD: At some kind of a charity thing and we get in the clubhouse and we’re having a beer and Marty Marion said, “Oh, by the way Delsing, you’re traded to Detroit.” And I had been playing golf with them.
RD: I nearly fell off the stove, needless to say. And then, got in the car with the baby and tried to find a pay phone, but didn’t know who to call or where.
RRA: You had three children then?
RD: No, that was just our first one. And it was a real jolt, I thought.
JD: But anyhow, we have enjoyed St. Louis. Of course, like I said, with the kids growing up and they had great schools. Our kids had great schools.
|From left to right: Former Browns players Bill Jennings, Jim Delsing, and Hank Arft pose with former Browns trainer Bob Bauman at the sixth annual St. Louis Browns Fan Club Hall of Fame dinner in 1990. Photograph courtesy of Bill Borst and the St. Louis Browns Historical Society & Fan Club.|
Unidentified Speaker: You talked about the camaraderie that you had with a number of players, but didn’t the wives as well, have…
RD: Absolutely, absolutely. We all sat together.
RRA: At the games?
RD: Yes. And the wives that were very young and didn’t have kids and were maybe living in an apartment, when the fellows go on the road then they would come spend the night. And we would do picnics and, you know, all kinds of things.
JD: Actually, it was a big ol’ family.
RRA: The team and the wives and the kids?
JD: Yeah, everybody.
RD: There was none…I don’t know how to explain it, but you never had this inner feeling that even though maybe I’m sitting next to a wife of another outfielder and her husband is playing and mine is not, you know, the desire was still there for Jim to be playing, but never a feeling like I hope he gets hurt or I hope he strikes out. It wasn’t that way at all. I always say it’s about him, we have the memories; they have the money, nowadays.
RRA: So, you wouldn’t trade it all?
RRA: And you don’t feel at all resentful that these guys now are making millions?
JD: Not a bit.
RD: No. We have been blessed in so many ways, you know, for us both to still be here and be able to come down here and meet you all, and to be married 56 years. When I was young, I thought, oh my gosh, I wouldn’t live to be that old.
RRA: What is the most you made playing baseball?
RD: I thought it was eighteen?
JD: Maybe so.
RRA: Was that with the White Sox?
JD: No, it was for Detroit. Yeah, we went to Detroit and did the contract, and the next year we got a $4,000 raise. We thought we had hit the lottery or something.
RRA: You could buy a house for that.
JD: Oh, heck yeah.
RD: We were very, very excited.
RRA: How long were you with the White Sox?
JD: Off and on I was there one full year, and then I had a cup of coffee, two, three years.
RD: Explain what that means.
JD: Cup of coffee means that you weren’t there too long, just long enough to have a cup of coffee and leave.
RRA: Were you traded to the minors?
JD: Yeah, I went to the minors.
RD: And then you went to the Dominican Republic and played there for a year.
RRA: That must have been a very different experience.
JD: Well, the thing about that is, we went down there from the Pittsburgh organization. I don’t know how, but that’s who they were. But the Alou brothers were in one outfield, Felipe…
RD: Moises; “Mosaic,” as they called him.
JD: …and Jesus, they were one outfield. And this is when we were there, Trujillo was the dictator and Batista had just left Cuba. But we were coming in there…
RD: And they stayed in the same hotel that we did at one time.
RRA: Batista did?
RRA: He exiled into the Dominican Republic?
RD: I couldn’t figure out what all these big, black limos were with all the black windows. You just didn’t see those. But that was his staff.
RRA: So, how many seasons did you play there?
JD: Just one year.
RD: Our daughter fell almost thirty feet over a railing onto a terrazzo floor. The boys were sliding down a banister and I had told them that the girls could not do this. And she just pushed up to look and tumbled, but fortunately, caught her leg on the back of a couch, which kept her from landing headfirst. She fractured her femur and splintered it. You know, we were in a three-room clinic with no running water, no anything.
Unidentified Speaker: There is another story I think that you told us at lunch that if you don’t mind me asking them to repeat? It was the negotiation of a contract.
RD: Oh, in the bathroom. That was the room.
JD: It was the only place where we had any peace and quiet.
RD: And we would lock the door and tell the kids do not disturb us. He would sit on the throne and I would sit with my back against the door and vice versa.
Jim Delsing wore this uniform while a member of the St. Louis Browns from 1950 to early 1952. Missouri History Museum.
JD: Yeah, that was our office. It’s amazing though, wasn’t it?
RD: Yes, but we truly did it.
JD: Oh yeah. We always did. We always talked before I had a meeting or something.
RD: But it was always in the bathroom. That was the only place you would have any quiet, you could hear the kids running up and down the hall.
RRA: What are some of your most memorable moments in baseball?
JD: Well, you know, I get a lot of stuff from people and they always ask that question. And I felt that the best moment of my life was every day when I put on a big-league uniform. That was my biggest thrill, just putting that uniform on. Because it seemed like that uniform was a little bit better than the one in the minor leagues.