This excerpt is brought to you by a partnership between Baseball Prospectus and the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, a collective of baseball authors focused on the principle of cooperation over competition. Check out their conversations about baseball books and much more at pbbclub.com, and on Twitter at @pandemicbaseba1
Chapter 6: Almost Cut My Hair
One of the nice things about being the DH is that, if you weren’t feeling 100 percent, you could reserve your strength for when you went up to the plate, then come back and rest for a couple of innings. There was one time in ’73 where we flew into Detroit for a four-game series—Friday, Saturday, and a double-dip on Sunday—and I had the flu real bad. I was sweating like a pig on the plane, and really, really hurting. Our trainer, Gene Monahan, took my temperature and it was 104. I really did not know if I was going to play the next day; I wanted to, of course, but I was so sick I couldn’t even see straight.
We got to the Cadillac in Detroit, and I immediately went up to my room and went to sleep; Gene had given me some medication to let me sleep. But when I went out to the ballpark the next day, I was still really sick. Thurman had been watching me on the plane—while he was playing gin with Bobby Murcer, which was their big thing—so he knew I was feeling bad. He comes up to me while I’m lying on the training table with towels all around me, and he asks me, “How are you doing, Bloomie?”
“Oh, I’m dying, Thurman,” I croak.
“Okay,” he says, “let me tell you what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna give you something, and I want you to take it a half an hour before the game, and it’s gonna make you feel good.”
He gives me a small little pill. I have no idea what it is—I’m very naïve—so I just say, “Okay, yeah. Thanks, Thurman.” Because the team is doing good, and I’m penciled into the lineup, and I’ve gotta play.
I guess it was maybe what they call a “greenie.” Back then, basically 85–90 percent of the players took them. It was basically like a NoDoz. It wasn’t like cocaine or steroids; it was just something to wake you up, like kids in college used to stay up studying for exams or like truckers used to keep away on the road. Everybody would talk in the clubhouse about how, “It’s time to drink our cup of coffee.” And when they’d do that, you knew what those guys were doing. If you took a greenie, then the coffee really would really boost it.
But I was naïve and had never done anything like that before. I took the pill that Thurman gave me, and all of a sudden I felt like I was in The Jetsons! It’s like when Pete Rose used to run to first base on a walk faster than most people would try to beat out a base hit. I was wired like that! I felt great and ready to play. But when I got up to the plate, I was so hyper my hands were shaking, and the ball looked like three balls coming at me. I kept swinging and missing each time I came up. I don’t know who was pitching, but I knew I looked like a fool swinging. I said, “Thurman, what did you do to me?”
He just laughed and said, “Now I know not to give one of those to you again. You were missing the ball by two or three feet!”
That night, I couldn’t sleep; the next day, I was in the lineup again, and I struck out twice. I couldn’t sleep for four days in a row! “What did you give me?” I kept asking him.
“I gave you some Indian medication,” he replied. That’s all he would say. From then on, I never took anything again. But Thurman would always tease me about it; we’d be hanging out talking to people at a bar or something, and he’d tell them, “Have Bloomie tell you about the time he couldn’t sleep for four nights in a row!”
People nowadays say, “Oh, you guys took amphetamines,” and make a big deal out of it, but a greenie really was like a NoDoz, something you could get over the counter. Drinking was much more of a thing in the days when we played, and all those guys who would drink after games, they’d need something to get them going the next day, especially when the day-to-day grind of the long season was wearing on them. You’d hear players saying, “I’m tired—I need to take a pepper-upper.” But it wasn’t like we had big jars of the stuff sitting out in the clubhouse.
I never saw Thurman take much of that stuff at all. Thurman would drink, like other ballplayers, but I never saw him do any drugs whatsoever. And as crazy as some of these guys were, I never saw any of them come into the clubhouse drunk. Even on road trips, I saw plenty of people hungover, but I never saw anyone take a drink during the game. But the NoDoz type stuff was common. A starting pitcher might take one a half hour before the game, or if a relief pitcher knows he might come in in the seventh, he’d take one in the fourth. That was a known fact. But even in my day, I never saw any player smoking grass or doing cocaine or any of that stuff. I would hear players talk about going to parties where that was going on. But I didn’t hang around with people who did that stuff, and I never saw any ballplayers taking that stuff. But taking a pep pill, that was everyday life for lots of players.
But even with the number of games Thurman caught every season, he was more of a “natural high” guy. He was just always pumped up for a game, and I really don’t think he had to take anything, because he was such an intense competitor; that was what he lived to do. And he was three lockers away, and we did pretty much everything together, so I’m sure I would’ve seen it if he was taking something like that on a regular basis.
This excerpt from The Captain & Me: On and Off the Field with Thurman Munson by Ron Blomberg with Dan Epstein is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, or www.triumphbooks.com/
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now