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MEMORIES OF THE BABE : Mark Koenig, Who Once Had Fight With Ruth, Remembers Him as Being More Than a Slugger

September 27, 1987|STEVE WILSTEIN | Associated Press

Ruth made $70,000 in 1927, while Koenig earned $10,000.

"We got paid every two weeks and he'd dangle that big check in front of me," Koenig says.

On the field, though, Ruth could do everything, Koenig says.

"As an outfielder, he had good hands and a good arm, and he was pretty fast for a big man," he says. "I never saw him drop a fly ball, and he never threw to the wrong base. He hit a lot of homers, of course, but he also had a high average. He even looked good striking out."

Koenig remembers Gehrig, who hit 47 homers and drove in a club high 175 runs in 1927, as "a very shy guy, a helluva nice guy and a great friend. He didn't smoke, didn't drink and didn't know what a girl looked like. I don't know how he ever got married."

Koenig also was good friends with Meusel, and thinks the late outfielder should be in the Hall of Fame after averaging .309 during an 11-year career that included six World Series. The 1927 Yankees already in the Hall include Ruth, Gehrig, Combs, Huggins and pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

However, Koenig has no illusions about joining his more famous teammates in baseball's shrine. "I'd put myself in the Hall of Infamy," he says with a laugh and another drink.

Still, he had respectable numbers in an 11-year career with four teams, averaging .279. He played in five World Series: three with the Yankees, one with the Chicago Cubs and one with the New York Giants. Batting second on the Yankees behind Combs and ahead of Ruth and Gehrig, Koenig scored 93, 99 and 89 runs from 1926 to 1928.

Koenig didn't hit for power -- he had only three of the Yankees' then-record 158 home runs in 1927, and just 28 in his career -- and fielding was not his forte.

"I was a lousy shortstop," he admits bluntly. "I had such small hands. We had little gloves, not the butterfly nets they've got now. I made quite a few errors, but not throwing errors because I had a good arm."

He still watches baseball occasionally, though with little enthusiasm.

"I'm disgusted with this modern play," he says. "The salaries, the hand slapping, helmets, wristlets, batting gloves and giant fielding gloves. And the game's become a home run barrage. I don't care what they say, the ball is livelier."

He also doesn't care much for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "He expects too much from his players and puts too much pressure on them," he says.

One player Koenig likes a lot, though, is Don Mattingly.

"He's another Gehrig," Koenig says with a fair amount of authority.

Koenig criticizes today's players for stepping out of the lineup for what he considers minor aches. He missed a couple of weeks in 1927, but he says he had a good excuse.

"I was in the hospital because Red Faber, the old spitball pitcher with Chicago, hit me right in the thigh," he says. "I got a big lump, so I went in the clubhouse and the trainer took a rolling pin and started rolling it out. Why, he broke all the damn blood vessels."

Koenig has dozens of stories but few mementos. He sold some and lost others. Scrapbooks, a replica of his 1928 World Series watch and a few other items are all he has to pass on to his daughter, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Koenig has lived alone since his second wife died in 1979. He's giving his home to one of his grandsons and will soon move to a cottage on his daughter's olive farm in Orland, Calif.

"I was born under a lucky star," he says. "How many guys in their first three years get in three World Series? And I never had a problem with money. I made some good investments and I've always gotten along."

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