While most teens in the 1950s looked up to Rock ‘n Roll singers, movie stars like James Dean or comic book heroes like Captain America, Washington, D.C. teen Jack Hayes hobnobbed on the field and off with baseball superstars such as Ted Williams, Satchel Paige and Mickey Mantle.
He shared comic books with Yogi Berra. Casey Stengel rated his playing ability. It all started because he was a “latch key kid.”
“Both of my parents worked, so I would come home after school and let myself in,” he said.
Jack’s mother worked in retail at Kresge’s and his father was a government employee.
A self-confessed baseball nut, “I was watching the World Series in October, 1952 between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers and saw Mickey Mantle hit a sixth inning home run.”
But what Jack was really watching was a kid on the field, in a Yankee’s uniform, picking up Mantle’s bat.
“I’d like to be a batboy,” he thought. But he didn’t know anyone at his hometown Washington Senators franchise. Undeterred, he looked up the phone number of Senators owner Clark G. Griffith and called him. Griffiths answered, talked to the young Hayes, and suggested he call Fred Baxter, the team’s manager. Baxter told the teen to come over to Griffith Field in January – three months later – and talk.
“During the phone call and in the January interview Baxter focused on how I would handle my school work – they played mostly day games then – and what would my parents think of it.” Jack got the job as visiting team batboy for two seasons and as the water boy job for the fall NFL games.
The baseball job consisted of off-the-field tasks such as cleaning and polishing the player’s shoes, swamping out the locker room and shower, and running errands. On the field he helped get the visiting team’s equipment to their dugout, ensured that the on-deck player had what he needed for his warm up, and racked the bat if the player got a hit or dropped it.
“The only part I hated,” he recalls, “Was when the visiting team had a pitching change. I would be wearing their uniform and have to run along the edge of the field by the hometown fans to get the reliever’s jacket and take it to their dug out. The fans would yell insults and throw things. One man even threw his hot dog at me.”
For the work – “Which I loved!” – and the insults, Jack received $2.50 a game plus tips and any equipment the players or team gave him. Plus, the odd second hand hot dog!
His first game was on April 16, 1953. Senators against the Yankees. During Yankee practice Jack was invited to play in the outfield where he caught a line drive that ripped his glove. “Hank Bauer came over, looked at it and told me it would be OK for today, but that I should check in his locker for an extra glove that I could use. That’s how friendly and great the players were. They played for the love of the game.”
The next day Jack witnessed baseball history when New York’s Mickey Mantle hit a ‘tape measure’ homer that went for 565 feet, bounced off the National Bohemian Beer sign atop the stands and landed in a residential back yard. “Chuck Stobbs was the Senator’s pitcher. He never lived it down.” New York went on to win 7-3.
Even though Jack took game days off school, his grades didn’t seem to suffer.
“I was a C student before and stayed there. My A subjects were gym and English Lit.” His school counselor was an avid baseball fan and could be counted on to provide an official excuse when needed. If the counselor was unavailable, Jack simply skipped classes.
Meanwhile, he was also playing baseball with his high school, in an industrial league and with a semi-pro men’s league. “Casey Stengel said I was a decent player and I wanted to break into the major leagues.” Jack started out as a pitcher. “I was strong and could throw a fast ball that would get past high school players. But when I got into the men’s league with experienced players, they just waited and hit it.” He switched over to third base and eventually found his place in the outfield.
It was in a men’s league game that Jack’s professional baseball dreams ended. “We were playing a team from Virginia and I hit a single to center.” The next time at bat the pitcher beaned Jack in the head. “We didn’t wear helmets back then. I thought I was out for a few seconds, but apparently I was out much longer than that.”
Today, after an international career in business, Jack and his wife, Darlene, live on the shores of the lake near Sumter Landing and, capitalizing on his prowess with English Lit, he writes award-winning books on business and, naturally, baseball. Darlene provides illustrations and designs. His books will be available at the Writer’s League of The Villages book fair at Eisenhower Recreation Center on Jan. 27.
“I got to know the baseball players pretty well because they would come in and stay for two or three days at a time. They would ask me to practice with them and give me tips. The football teams, on the other hand, arrived the morning of the game and would be gone that night. There wasn’t time.”
Jack’s favorite player and mentor during his batboy days was the great Ted Williams. “One day he said he’d give me some batting tips. I expected tips on holding the bat or getting ready.” Instead Williams coached him on how to watch opposing pitchers during warmups to detect little mannerisms they used that would signal the type of pitch they were going to throw.
Although Williams had an ongoing feud with the media, Jack knew him as a proud, kind and caring person.
“In the evenings he would go to children’s cancer hospitals. No press or photos.”
One of Jack’s greatest treasures is the glove Williams gave him more than 60 years ago.
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. Learn more at www.GoMyStory.com.