Memories of a grand ol' game

March 31, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Tonight, Major League Baseball begins anew - in Anaheim, Calif., where the Angels will get their championship rings for winning last year's World Series.

Locally, with the Baltimore Orioles young and promising but mediocre, some fans are keeping an eye on Canada. They wonder if someone will step in to buy the Montreal Expos and transform them into the Washington Senators team in time for next season.

Baseball left Washington more than 30 years ago.

The second version of the Senators, which started play in Washington in 1961, left in 1971 for Texas and became the Rangers. The original Senators franchise of 1901 to 1960, moved to Minnesota and became the Twins.


Older fans may remember some of the original Senators from the later years - Harmon Killebrew, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos and Jim Lemon.

Bill Hoos remembers farther back, to when Hall-of-Famers Al Simmons, Rick Ferrell and Goose Goslin played.

Hoos, a Washington Senator in 1937 and 1938, was their teammate.

Today, Hoos, 84, lives at Country Meadows of Frederick, a retirement community, with his wife, Mary, who has Alzheimer's disease. He has been there since October.

Sixty-six years ago, he was a fledgling catcher with the Senators, eager to sop up whatever baseball wisdom came his way.

Hoos said he was primarily a bullpen catcher, helping pitchers warm up before they came into the game.

The Baseball Encyclopedia and records at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Coopers-town, N.Y., show that Hoos never played in a game for the Senators. His daughter, Christy Hoos, confirmed that.

But that doesn't ruin his vivid, joyful memories of being in the major leagues.

Of sitting in the stands with New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig and listening to Gehrig's tips on hitting.

Of catching pitch after hard pitch from Cleveland Indians ace Bob Feller for an instructional video.

When it comes to baseball stories, "I can throw out a lot," Hoos said.

A native of Arbutus, Md., Hoos played on a state championship baseball team at Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore in 1935, his junior year.

Coming out of the Great Depression, his school started charging tuition the next year, forcing some good players to drop out, he said.

"We were terrible," he said.

Hoos paid $40 to attend school that year. He and Frank Sansosti attracted some major league scouts.

The Washington Senators signed Hoos for $6,000 - a nice sum, considering that milk was 14 cents a quart and bread was 9 cents a loaf.

"You felt like a millionaire," Hoos said.

Hoos went right to the Senators instead of one of their minor league teams.

Hall-of-Famer Bucky Harris was the manager.

"He was tough," Hoos said. "He was demanding, but if you ... played hard, he was a very good manager."

Hoos was on the team as a backup for Rick Ferrell.

In 1937, Ferrell caught in just 84 of the team's 158 games. Six other backup catchers played that season, but not Hoos.

The next year, Ferrell was more durable and caught 135 games.

Until Carlton Fisk passed him in 1988, Ferrell held the American League record for games caught.

Hoos had little reason to hope Ferrell would sit and he would play. He said, though, that he didn't mind.

"I was there primarily to learn, and he was very good to me," Hoos said. "I sure wouldn't wish him any hard luck."

Priceless memories

Despite being assigned to the bullpen, Hoos has some priceless memories from that era.

One was of Gehrig, in street clothes, chatting with young ballplayers including Hoos after a game. It was around the time Gehrig's crippling illness, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was starting to surface.

Hoos called Gehrig a "prince of a guy."

Another memory was of being picked to help make a film about baseball fundamentals. Star players explained and demonstrated their positions.

Feller was chosen as the pitcher. Hoos caught Feller's pitches for that segment, which they filmed one day before a Washington-Cleveland game.

Hoos said he ran into Feller in the 1970s at a baseball banquet and the pitcher remembered him as the catcher in that film.

The Senators either sold or traded Hoos - he can't remember which - to the Detroit Tigers.

He spent parts of the 1938 season in Salisbury, Md., and Charleston, W.Va. He was with the Salisbury Indians, a Washington affiliate in the Eastern Shore League. His salary was $75 a month.

He also spent time with the Charleston Senators, a Detroit affiliate in the Middle Atlantic League. His pay went up to $125 a month.

Hoos said he played some with both teams.

The Baseball Fall of Fame's research library found a "Richard Hoos" with Salisbury and "Henry R. Hoose" with Charleston in 1938. However, statistics are not kept for players who appeared in 10 games or fewer, which must have been the case for Hoos, a researcher said.

Christy Hoos said both listings must have been for her father, whose middle name is Richard. His first name is actually Henry. "Bill" is a nickname.

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