Former Brooklyn Dodgers Pitcher Glenn Mickens Recalls a Wonderful Career
For every star player with a lengthy major league baseball career, there are dozens who only have a “cup of coffee.” The experiences of those short-time players run the gamut of having a moment or two of glory to playing for hapless second division teams. Glenn Mickens was one of those “cup of coffee” players, but has incredibly rich memories of his brief time in the majors.
Mickens, a right-handed pitcher, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950. He made quick work of the low minors, earning a call-up to Brooklyn in July, 1953. He appeared in a total of 4 games for the eventual National League champs, who ran away with the pennant with 105 wins. During his time with Brooklyn Mickens made 2 starts and 2 relief appearances. In 6.1 innings, he had a 0-1 record and 11.37 ERA. Unfortunately, after he was sent back down, he never made it back to majors.
Mickens pitched in the Dodgers’ system through the 1958 season, always putting up solid numbers but never being summoned to the star laden parent club. He also played 5 seasons in Japan, becoming one of the first American players of such long tenure. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mickegl01.shtml.
Mickens remained involved in the game through coaching after retiring as a player. His many amazing memories from his playing career are worthy of a book. He recently shared some of those recollections with me and gave me insight as to what it was like to be part of one of the most legendary sports franchises of all time.
Glenn Mickens Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: I was born and grew up in Southern California. My “only” team was the Los Angeles Angels—the big leagues were a dream for others, as the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and my “Angels” were what baseball was all about.
Those players on the Angels in the ’40s were my heroes—Charlie English, Arnold “Jigger” Statz (a center fielder who cut a hole in the pocket of his glove so that the ball could never get out), Lou “the Mad Russian” Novikoff (he could hit and hit with power), “Jittery” Joe Berry (a pitcher I saw run and tag out a runner at second base), Eddie Waitkis (a first baseman who I believe a woman shot in a hotel room in Chicago), Eddie Malone (the youngest catcher at 16 years old to be in AAA baseball), and “Broadway” Billy Schuster, a fine fielding shortstop with flair, and on and on.
I even worked in Wrigley Field as a bottle boy for the vendors. After filling their baskets with bottles I would run up the stairs to the box seats and cheer my Angels on- before a packed crowd of 22,000 people. Then I would run back down to the “dungeon” and do my work.
It was my dream to one day play for the Angels in this beautiful park and that came to happen in 1957, but that is a whole other episode in my baseball career.
How did you come to sign with the Dodgers in 1950?: When I graduated from Fremont High School in 1948 I went to a Dodgers instructional camp in Anaheim, California- one of the many places the Dodgers and other big league teams held try outs for anyone wanting to play baseball.
I was about 5’11″ tall and 155 pounds and pitched in high school, but not as the “ace,” though I had a decent arm and my fastie had natural “sink” to it.
After a week of going to that camp the Dodgers liked what they saw of me, and when I told them I was going to UCLA they encouraged me to do that. They wanted to see me get bigger and stronger and said they would be following me. They asked me how much I had spent for gas and food driving back and forth to Anaheim for the week (about 50 miles round trip from my home) and I said about $20, which they gave me.
I entered UCLA the fall of ’48 and went out for freshman baseball in the spring of ’49. I worked hard all fall and Jack “Moose” Myers, the freshman coach, liked me and I made the team. After about two weeks of practicing with the team Myers came up to me and with a solemn face said I was ineligible. I had filled out a form that asked if I had ever received any money from baseball and I put down the $20 that the Dodgers gave me for going to that camp. Myers apologized to me for not screening the form, as he would have told me to not put that down. Even though it was not for playing ball, it was given to me by a pro club and thus they took my amateur status away. I got affidavits from the Dodgers saying that the money was not for playing ball but the NCAA ruled and that was it.
Head coach, and a man who became my best friend over the years, Art Reichle, kept me on the varsity team- let me travel with them, throw batting practice, and root for the club. He took me on my first plane ride to the Bay area and on my first train ride to Tucson, Arizona to play the University of Arizona, a great experience for a kid who never got out of Los Angeles. Reichle didn’t get much talent in those days (USC got most of it!) and felt that I could help him if he could get back my eligibility.
In the spring of 1950 my status remained the same and Art kept me on the team. The 10 member Pacific Coast Conference finally voted on my case, and I needed a 6 to 4 vote to get my amateur status back, but the vote was 5 to 5. I was devastated in finding out that I was voted down. Reichle was furious, as he knew other players from our conference that had “jobs” in the summer playing ball and never did a thing but play baseball and got $400 a month for those “jobs”.
During my ineligibility at UCLA I was pitching for a semi pro club team in Los Angeles. One Sunday I threw a no hitter that got a small line in the sports section of our local paper. Our Athletic Director, Wilber Johns, saw it and called me into his office. He said that they were trying to get my amateur status back and I was violating another college rule that prohibited players from playing semi pro ball during the season. I argued that I wasn’t eligible to pitch for UCLA due to the $20 dollar infraction, so how could pitching for a semi pro team make me MORE ineligible.
He knew that a number of pro teams had been watching me pitch, so he recommended that I work out with one of them and sign a contract. I told him that it had always been my dream to play college baseball and pitch for UCLA, but since all odds kept working against me I told him I would take his advice.
I contacted a Dodger scout, Ross “Rosey” Gilhousen (who had followed me since that camp in 1948). He arranged for me to try out at Gilmore Stadium (home of the Hollywood Stars) and they signed me that night. My bonus and salary couldn’t be over $6000 or I would have had to have been on the Dodgers and not in their minor league system. This was the same rule that kept the Dodgers from sending Koufax to the minors instead of waiting for him to find his control with the big club. Also in 1954 they signed Roberto Clemente (I played with him that year in Montreal) and they gave him $10,000. They would play “Bert” 4 or 5 innings and take him out of the lineup to try and keep other clubs from seeing him, as he would be on the unconditional draft list at the end of the season and could be bought by any major league team.
Ironically one of the other scouts that helped sign me, Howie Haak, was now with the Pirates and came to see me while in Montreal. I told him we had this kid Clemente that could do it all and that he should watch him play. I had no idea about the draft rule or why they were taking Bert out of the lineup early, but it was obvious that he had all the tools to play in the bigs.
Haak followed us everywhere and since the Pirates had first pick in the draft (actually the Senators had the first pick but they knew nothing about Clemente) they got him for I believe the same ten grand that the Dodgers signed him for and the rest is history. Maybe my heads up to Haak was one of the reasons the Dodgers never really liked me again?
How did you get called up to the Dodgers?: I was off to a fine start in 1951 (my first year of going to Vero Beach for spring training) at Fort Worth under Bobby Bragan- one of the best managers I ever played for. However, I was in the Navy Reserve in Los Angeles and transferred that reserve to Fort Worth. Los Angeles advised that I should immediately enlist or would be drafted because of the Korean War. I was 4-2 at the time with a good ERA, but Bragan knew the commanding officer at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio loved sports, so he took me there and I enlisted.
Many service teams had fine clubs at that time and ours was very good. We had Gus Triandos, Don Newcombe, Bob Turley, Owen Friend, Dick Kokos and Bobby Brown (for a short time), plus some good minor league players. My first year I went 16-1, and I believe my only loss was to the Chicago Cubs, who we played in the spring, 2-1. I remember the headlines in the paper saying, ‘Mickens gives the Cubs the dickens but loses 2 to 1.’
I saved up all my leave time and Charlie Dressen (he remembered me in 1951 when I pitched against the Dodgers in the Dodger minor league all stars against them and did a good job) invited me to early camp with them. I pitched in 15 innings against the Red Sox, Yankees, and other big league clubs without giving up a run, and so Charlie really liked me. I left camp with them but had 30 more days to serve in the Army, so had to leave the team when we got to Baltimore. Obviously I have to wonder if I could have stayed with the big club and not gone back to the Army, would things have been different, but time cannot be turned back.
By the time I got out of the Army the Dodgers had a set pitching staff, so they sent me back to Fort Worth. In two months there I was 8-5 with a 1.78 ERA in 138 innings and made the Texas League all star team. My manager at Fort Worth, Max Macon, was starting me every fourth day, which I really liked. Then he started me with two days rest and I knew that my arm was getting fatigued- not sore, but tired. I was still only 6′ and 170 lbs, so the added starts were taking their toll.
Finally on July 15th, Dressen called me to the Dodgers as their staff was struggling at the time. It was the thrill of my life to be called to the “bigs,” as I hadn’t even been in pro ball one full year. And, finally, knowing that there WAS another league other than the PCL!
What were Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider like?: Before I was called to the Dodgers the first “cultural” shock I got was with the black Dodger players in the 1953 spring training days in Florida. When our team went to Miami from Vero, Robinson, Campanella, Gilliam, Joe Black, and Newcomb couldn’t be on “our” bus, but had a separate car to take them to “their” hotel- they couldn’t stay with us!! They couldn’t eat with us, drink out of “our” water fountain, nor use “our” rest rooms- unbelievable to a kid from LA who had many friends; black, white, yellow and brown- friendship never had a color or race. This was my first “cultural” lesson of the South and it really upset me.
When I joined the Dodgers all of them were extremely nice to me and it was a fun new world. Watching Jackie was an experience in itself. He was one of only two players I ever saw that could attempt to steal second base, know that the throw was going to beat him, and go back to first- he had that great lateral movement ability. Or if they did get Jackie in a “pickle” he was able to get out of it I think over 50% of the time, whereas the odds are about 98% or more that someone who gets caught will be out. When Jackie was at UCLA (we had something in common and talked about it) he was the only athlete in the school’s history to letter in four sports- baseball, football, basketball and track. It was his amazing athletic ability and being able to accelerate so fast that made him great. Obviously Branch Rickey picked the only black player that had the athletic ability to be great and the mental ability to be able to keep his mouth shut when being spiked and called every dirty name in the book.
Roy loved the game as no one I ever knew loved it, and it was great to have him catching me with Jackie at second base. Pee Wee, Dick Williams, Furillo, Cox , Snyder were all outstanding, and Gil and Erskine were particularly good at making me feel like I belonged on that club. Duke was easy come, easy go, and once took my black Nakona glove, tied it in a knot and threw it in the toilet. Colored gloves were not common then (as today) but I had a Nakona contract from Texas and got my gloves for nothing and liked the black ones!
While I was with Brooklyn they got hot and I could see that my pitching time would be limited. Having just gotten out of two years in the Army, the Dodgers had to have my permission to send me back to the minors. Charlie asked me if I wanted to play winter ball in Cuba, and since I knew I needed the experience, I said ‘sure.’ I believe the rule at the time was that you couldn’t be in the majors over 45 days and play winter ball, so I had to go to Montreal right away.
Looking back, I know I could have been on a World Series club, but at the time I knew I needed the work and didn’t want to be on a bench (even a World Series bench) with limited pitching time. I went to Montreal, played for Walt Alston, was 2-0, and we won the Little World Series against Kansas City. In the playoffs Lasorda lost the first game and I won the 2nd game 1-0, going all but one out from a complete game. So, the Army, Fort Worth, Brooklyn, Montreal, and Cuba all in the same year (1953)- it was a busy one!
How good of a pitcher was Tommy Lasorda?: I played with Lasorda in ’53, ’54, ’55, and ’57. He had a fine 12 to 6 curveball and was as good a competitor as ever toed the mound. He would knock his own mother down if it meant winning a game! If you had one big game you had to win you wouldn’t hesitate to give Tom the ball, and the odds were great that you would win. Tom could tell stories all day and I listened to most of them in the clubhouse. Today one has to pay a grand to hear these same stories, but again, he is one great motivator!
I also played ball with George “Sparky” Anderson in ’56 and ’57, and he was the type of player you wanted behind you when you were on the mound. He didn’t have the natural ability as say a Charlie Neal (one of the best gloves I ever saw) or Jackie Robinson, but he was a battler and a winner- give me 8 George Andersons on the field and I will show you a winning ball club.
What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: In 1955 we (Montreal) won the pennant by half a game over Toronto. We had Charlie Neal and Chico Fernandez at second and shortstop, and as the Richmond paper said, they were worth the price of admission to watch play- a truly great double play combo. I was a relief pitcher with an 8-3 record going into the last month. I roomed with Drysdale, and when he broke his hand (he was 11-11 at the time and the way he broke his hand is an off the record story!) I had to take Don’s place as the starter in the last four games. I started, finished and won all four to end the year; 12-3 with a 2.18 ERA. We played a doubleheader on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday and won all four. Toronto played a doubleheader both days and also won all four. But we played 154 games and they played 153, so we won the pennant by half a game- What an ending to a great year!
Ironically I never got a penny raise after that season, nor, even more importantly, did I ever get another shot at the Dodgers- that too is another story.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience playing professionally in Japan?: After my 1958 season with Victoria, Texas- I think I was 9-10 with a decent ERA for a last place team- Tommy Davis was my teammate and what a career he went on to! I begged the Dodgers to sell, trade, or give me my release, but under the reserve clause I was theirs for “life” and there was nothing I could do. The reserve clause was as illegal as any document ever written, but until Andy Messersmith came along it stood to benefit the big league clubs and never the players.
In 1956 I played in Montreal with a boy from Hawaii that had played in Japan (Bill Nishita). He only played for the Royals one year and went back to Japan. Knowing that I had no future with the Dodgers and that they would not release me, I asked Nishita if he could get me a job in Japan. Japan was an outlaw league and the only professional league someone like me could go to and make a living. Bill arranged for me and Ron Bottler (a catcher) to play for the Kintetsu Buffaloes in the Pacific League.
Kintetsu (owned by the Kinki Nippon Railroad- second largest in Japan to the National Railroad) treated me great and the people and fans were wonderful to me. I have many good stories from over there but that can be for another book if you want to go there. You have my record and know what a thrill it was to be picked to pitch in 3 all star games and be the first American to win an all star game. I believe I threw 8 2/3 innings in the 3 games and did not give up a run-even got to face the great Sadaharu Oh and got him out.
I was on the worst offensive and defensive club in the league and it wasn’t easy to win games. I think 14 was the best I ever did. But as I said, they treated me well and I made a lot of friends there. When our UCLA teams went to Japan to play games I had a good time seeing my friends- Keio University came to UCLA over the years to play us and it was a great relationship.
What pitches were in your repertoire?: My money pitch that kept me in the game for 15 years was my natural sinking fastball. I had a slider, slurve, and a changeup, and used the “wet one” in my later years on and off! I probably threw in the upper 80s with a possible 90 here or there, but was never a power pitcher. Give me a good double play combo as Neal and Fernandez (or Robinson and Reese or Zimmer and Gilliam) and I will beat you with ground ball outs.
Who was the most underrated player you ever played with or against?: One of the best players who ever played behind me (longer than in the bigs) was Glen “Rocky” Nelson- a first baseman who I played with at Montreal. I believe he won the Triple Crown 2 or 3 years in the International League, and that was a tough league. He could flat out hit, and hit with power- left-handers or right-handers, it didn’t matter to Rocky. He hit from the left side, but hit lefties as good as righties.
If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Baseball has been my life and at 82 I am still in the game as the official scorer and arbitrator for the high school league here on Kauai- have been for 18 years. For the past 7 years our UCLA alumni teams have played ball in France, Italy, Spain (twice), Australia, Puerto Rico, and Prague- we play in tournaments in those countries and have a great time- I still throw BP to the jock straps. Baseball has taken me all over the world- the US, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, South America, Japan, and these other countries I have named.
My coaching career at UCLA for 25 years produced a lot of fine players and I still hear from them—Karros, Zeile, Slaught, Bonham, and too many to name. Coach Adams arranges the alumni trips and I am lucky enough to go along with him- I coached with him for 15 years and with Reichle for 10 years. The only change I would have made was doing away with the reserve clause and have the game the way it is today.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.