Cleveland Plain Dealer
by Hal Lebovitz
May 27, 1961
Caldwell, Now 73, Finds Life Much Brighter As He Leaves Hospital With Sight Restored
The former Cleveland Indians' pitcher, nearly blind, had a cataract removed from his right eye 12 days ago. Now, in baseball parlance, he has "One out to go."
A cataract will be removed from his left eye whenever Dr. Charles I. Thomas deems it advisable.
The 73-year-old will be staying with his granddaughter, Mrs. Jean DeFranko, 12601 Melgrove Avenue, Garfield Heights, for a few days, since he must visit Dr. Thomas again on Wednesday. Then he will return to his home in Onoville, NY to await his second call to surgery.
Gets Many Cards
Big, healthy-looking Caldwell enjoyed his stay at University Hospital. He received numerous cards from well-wishers. One came from a former teammate in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League back in 1910. There was a large "Wahoo" card sent in by Mary Craig of the Indians' ticket department.
And the nurses were so pretty.
Martin Flynn, who works for the Strong-Kennard Company, an optical firm here, dropped in. Flynn and Caldwell were old telegraph operators before "Slim" became a pitcher. Through Flynn, Strong-Kennard will provide Caldwell with the glasses he needs, without charge.
Friends from everywhere have come to Caldwell's aid. Over $500 was raised by the Randolph (NY) Lions' Club to defray his expenses. This, however, was less than will be required to cover his expenses for both operations. Caldwell, himself, has no funds and has been unable to work in recent years because of his failing sight.
Wamby, Uhle Visit
At the hospital, he had two surprise visitors, Bill Wamby and George Uhle, teammates of his on the 1920 world champion Indians. Uhle was just a sophomore that year, but Wamby was the regular second baseman and became immortal by pulling off the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.
"What did we talk about? We talked about old times," Caldwell reported. "You know, stories have been printed saying I was a drinker. That's not true. I was sore about them. In fact, I was thinking about suing the papers. Wamby and Uhle were angry, too. They'll tell you it wasn't true. I was always ready to pitch."
The 1920 trio talked about present-day baseball. "We are all of the same opinion - you'll get me shot if you print it - but we don't think the pitchers are in shape to pitch nine innings," he said.
Arms Aren't strong
"Their arms don't seem strong. We always said that if we couldn't throw nine hard innings, we weren't in top shape.
"The trouble with pitchers nowadays is they get in the hole. They're always 2-0 on the hitter and then they have to come in with a fastball.
"I suppose they are worried about the lively ball. It's so lively a midget could hit it out of the park. But it was pretty lively in our day, too. When I came to the Indians in 1919, we often cut the balls in half to see what made them jump and we saw the yarn was being wound tight, the way it is now."
Caldwell pitched until he was 43. He was with Birmingham of the Southern Association.
"The last games I worked were in the Dixie Series against Houston. I beat Dizzy Dean in the first game, 1-0. Diz was 20 then. He said I was old enough to be his father - and I guess I was. He went up to the big leagues the next year."
Knee Gave Out
Slim had to quit after that season. "My knee gave out," he explained. "I had to have it operated on."
Caldwell says his memories of the 1920 season have faded. He won 20 games and lost 10. "It was the best hustling club I ever looked at," he recalled. "Tris Speaker, our manger, was the greatest outfielder I ever saw."
The previous year he pitched a no-hitter the first time he faced the Yanks. "All I remember about that one," he said, "is that I struck out their leadoff man, Chick Fewster, four times."
The "funniest thing" that ever happened to him during his lengthy career, he recalled with a laugh, was the time I was pitching for the Yankees. We were playing in the Polo Grounds. After I threw a pitch the fans let out a shout. I thought the man on first was stealing second, so I turned around to look. The catcher's throw hit me right in the back. The man wasn't stealing. The fans were yelling because the Giants' score was being posted on the scoreboard."
Caldwell "didn't think it was so funny" when he was struck by lightning. He was pitching at League Park when the bolt hit. "I didn't see it," he said. "Just felt the blow." He figuratively shook off the sparks and retired the final batter.
The old hurler had hoped to run a baseball clinic in Fremont this summer as he did last year. "But I don't think I'll be able to, now," he said. "On my way here I stopped in Norwalk and called up Lefty Grove. He said he'd show up there if I reminded him."
He recalled that he faced Grove when the lefthander was still in the minors. "That was back in 1923, in the Little World Series. He was with Baltimore and I was with Kansas City and was getting as much money as Cleveland had given me. Grove was so wild he walked the first three men on 12 straight pitches. Then you know what happened? The next man up hits the first pitch into a double play. How dumb can you be? We didn't happen to have a gun on the bench or we would have shot him."
Was Ruth's Roommate
Caldwell has the distinction of being Babe Ruth's roommate when they were with the Red Sox during spring training of 1919. "Babe was a pitcher then," recalled Caldwell. "We were playing an exhibition against the Giants in Tampa, FL, and Bill Sunday, the evangelist, was sitting on the bench next to John McGraw, the Giants' manager. McGraw told Sunday, 'This fat kid thinks he can hit.' He told his pitcher to blow the ball past him. Ruth hit it. It went clean out of the park and landed in our hotel dormitory. McGraw said he'd never seen a ball hit that far as long as he lived. I know I never did."
Caldwell says he feels so good that, "I'll make 100 yet. I've only got 27 more years to go."
For a man who has survived lightning and those "drinking stories," why not?