Enos "Country" Slaughter flashed one of his down-home grins after hearing the question he knew was coming the question he's been answering for nearly four decades.
What happened on that play in the 1946 World Series?
That play came in the seventh and final game of the '46 Series between the St. Louis Cardinals, featuring Slaughter, and the Boston Red Sox. With two out and the score tied, 3-3, Slaughter singled. Up came Harry Walker, who lofted a hit to medium left-center field.
Somehow, Slaughter rambled all the way home from first base to score what would become the winning run.
Sitting at a table in Brooklyn's restaurant Friday morning, Slaughter sipped on some lemon juice and nodded his head at the question. The Hall of Famer was here to promote the Variety Club's Dale Robertson Celebrity Golf Tournament Sept. 28-29 at Cedar Valley Country Club, but he knew no one was going to ask him about birdies and bogeys.
Certainly not the sportswriter sitting across from him the guy who hadn't been born on Oct. 15, 1946.
"When I made my turn at second," Slaughter said, "that's when I knew I could score because the play was right in front of me."
Still, incongruities surround one of the most famous plays in Series history. According to some history books, Walker's hit was a double.
Others claim he singled. According to Slaughter, it was a double but should have been a single.
"The official scorer was from Detroit," he said, "and I don't know what he had against me but it was really a long single was what it was. The ball was hit into left-center. It was not what you'd call a line drive, just a medium-hit ball, and when I hit second base the ball had just hit the ground it was in front of me and I said to myself, "I can score.' And there wasn't even a play on me. I could have crossed home plate easily.
"They scored it as a double, but when Johnny Pesky throwed home, Walker goes on into second after the throw. So it couldn't have been anything but a long single is what it was."
History books, as well as Cardinal teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Stan Musial, have claimed that Slaughter ignored a "stop" sign from third base coach Mike Gonzalez. On that one, Slaughter isn't sure.
"I don't know to this day whether Mike Gonzalez gave me the stop or go sign," Slaughter said. "A lot of people said he gave me the stop sign, but I kept running and scored easily.
"In an earlier ballgame, Mike Gonzalez stopped me on a bad relay throw and (St. Louis manager) Eddie Dyer told me from then on if there were two men out and I thought I had a legitimate chance to score to go ahead and gamble and he'd be responsible for it. That's one of the reasons I went all out for home plate."
Yet another mystery surrounding the play is whether Boston shortstop Pesky, after getting the relay throw, made an error in judgment. He hesitated before throwing home.
"They made Pesky out a goat, but I've always upheld Pesky because I really feel like the word of mouth is one of the greatest assets in sports," Slaughter said. "If (second baseman) Bobby Doerr or (third baseman) Pinky Higgins either one woulda hollered "Go home with the ball' and Pesky had turned and thrown home right away, I think he would have had me by 10 feet.
"He looked towards second and then he looked and saw me out of the corner of his eye and that's when he had to turn and throw home, and when he turned he couldn't get anything on the ball. Really, to me it was a head's-up play on my part and I think a little lackadaisical play on the Red Sox infield for not letting Pesky know where the runner was at."
While Pesky momentarily ignored Slaughter, "Country" was forgetting the throbbing in his right elbow. In the fifth game of the Series, Slaughter's "crazy bone" had been hit by a pitch. For the only time in his career, he was forced to leave the game. Couldn't hit, couldn't throw.
"On our way back to St. Louis," Slaughter said, "the trainer put me in a separate compartment on the train. I had Epsom salts and hot towels wrapped around that elbow. When I got to St. Louis, the team physician rushed me right to St. Mary's hospital. He X-rayed my arm and said if I had such a bad hemmorhage that if I got hit on it again that he would probably have to amputate it.
"I said, "Doc, that's the chance we take.' I said, "I've came this far. I've got to play.' And so I went ahead and played. I couldn't throw, but I bluffed 'em."
For 22 years, from 1938 to 1959, he bluffed 'em. "Country" Slaughter from Roxboro, N.C., was the original Charley Hustle. After 19 full-blast major league seasons (he was in World War II from 1943-45) he finished with a .300 career batting average. And after 26 years of waiting he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on July 28.
Slaughter, 69 years spry, is a self-styled country boy who still lives in Roxboro, operating a 150-acre farm. But Slaughter definitely is not an aw-shucks type. He is very proud of his baseball accomplishments and very disappointed that no one seemed to notice until 1985, when the Veterans Committee put him into the Hall of Fame.
"I was definitely bitter when the writers overlooked me for 15 years," Slaughter said. "I had 152 assists from the outfield and that proved I could throw. A .300 lifetime batting average proves that I could hit. I definitely feel like I could run. I didn't steal many bases but they all dreaded me when I got on because I played hard all the time.
"If they got in the way I probably spiked a few people and they thought I was mean. But, you know, a lot of these pitchers knocked me down two and three times a ballgame, and I never thought they were mean. They were trying to win just like I was. I didn't ask for no odds and I didn't give any. I didn't back up from anybody. I didn't care what the situation was, I'd fly into 'em.
"I don't feel like when I went into Cooperstown that I had to take a back seat to anybody. I could do it all. If I have to say so, I think I was as good a clutch hitter as ever walked up to that plate."
But longevity is what sticks out when you ponder Slaughter's career, which began with three years of minor league baseball in 1935 and ended as a player-coach in the minors in 1961. In 1958, at 42, he became the oldest non-pitcher to play in a World Series.
"When I was 40 years old," he said, "I was still in the top 25 going to first base in 3.6 (seconds). When I retired at the age of 43 in 1959 I could have played another year or so doing the job they wanted me to do, as a utility outfielder or pinch-hitter. I could still do that. I'm just sorry the American League didn't have the designated hitter before I retired because I still felt like I could hit until I was 50."
He would have liked modern day salaries, too, of course. Slaughter made $75 a month in his first pro season, at Martinsville, Va., in 1935. He made $150 a month in his first major league season, 1938. His top salary was $25,000 in 1950, the year after leading the National League in batting at .336, the seventh of his 10 seasons hitting .300 or more.
"Today, you hit .200 or .220 you're making half a million, and if you hit .240 or .250 you're a superstar," Slaughter said. "When I came up if you didn't hit .300 you went back to the minor leagues to learn how to hit."
Finally, Slaughter was asked about something more important than any baseball game he ever played: the bombing of Hiroshima, 40 years ago last Wednesday. Slaughter, stationed at Tinian on Aug. 6, 1945, watched "Enola Gay" and several other B-29 bombers take off for Japan.
"I didn't know what plane had the bomb, and I don't think anybody there knew where it was until after it dropped," Slaughter said. "We used to see 125 to 150 planes take off everyday from Tinian. I used to see a lot of 'em struggle in on two motors and three motors, and some of 'em would hit the sink before they got in.
"The planes took off from there and returned there, too. Later, I met the captain (of "Enola Gay"). He didn't say much except that it was an awful jolt when it went off.
"You hate to see all the injured and everything that happened, but I definitely feel like it was the turning point of the war, and if it hadn't been for that I think both sides woulda lost a lot more men."
And World Series history might have lost one of its most memorable moments 14 months later.
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