I recently joined the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). My membership paid immediate dividends when I appealed to members for information about Canada’s Mr. October, George Selkirk.
Dubbed “Twinkletoes” for his distinct running style, Selkirk was arguably the greatest Canadian player of the first half of the 20th century. Suiting up alongside immortals like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey, the Hunstville, Ont., native is best known as the man that replaced Babe Ruth in right field for the Bronx Bombers.
Wearing the Bambino’s famous No. 3, Selkirk excelled during his nine-year big league career with the Yankees. His major league resume boasts two all-star selections, five seasons in which he hit over .300 and two 100-RBI campaigns. Selkirk was equally impressive in the post-season, belting a home run in his first World Series at bat in 1936. In all, the talented outfielder was part of five World Series-winning teams, the most of any Canadian.
From 1943 to 1945, Selkirk served in the U.S. Navy. When he returned from military duty, he was employed as a player/manager with the Yankees’ top farm team in Newark. After his playing days were over, Selkirk served as supervisor of player personnel with the Kansas City Athletics in 1957 and as the general manager of the Washington Senators from 1964 to 1969.
I wrote a previous blog entry about Selkirk in July. It can be found here: http://is.gd/fYIwR
While details about Selkirk’s baseball feats are readily available, information about his personality has been elusive. When I appealed to SABR members for information, I was fortunate to receive a response from Dave Baldwin, who pitched with the Washington Senators from 1966 to 1969 while Selkirk was the general manager of the club. The only geneticist and systems engineer to play major league baseball, the brainy ex-big leaguer has written a wonderful memoir about his baseball career called Snake Jazz. You can purchase it on his website: http://www.snakejazz.com/
Baldwin was kind enough to share what he remembers about Selkirk’s personality in the following short e-mail interview:
Q. When you think about George Selkirk, what is the first memory that pops into your head? Why does that memory come to mind?
A: I felt that George took a special interest in my career. Perhaps he was empathetic because I was late in making it to the majors (29 in my first full season in the majors) as was George (27 in his first full season). In 1968 he had to send me down to the minors, and it seemed to really bother him. Most GMs are pretty cold about transactions of this sort.
Q: In your experience, how would you describe Selkirk’s personality?
A: He was rather relaxed, easy-going. I know that players who had contract disputes with him felt otherwise, but I never had any problems of that sort, so I always talked to him when we were both in good humor. I remember once during spring training he called me over to ask me about my delivery (I threw sidearm and submarine – very unorthodox in the 1960s). He listened very intently and asked a number of astute questions. He wasn’t trying to change my delivery – he just wanted to know how I had learned to throw that way. I guess I would answer your question by saying that I liked him.
Q: How was Selkirk to deal with in contract negotiations?
A: As I wrote above, our negotiations were easy. He offered me what I was expecting. Once, in 1967, he called me into his office in June and gave me a “bonus” raise – completely unexpected on my part. I had gotten off to a great start, and he felt I deserved it.
Q: Did Selkirk ever talk about his playing career? If yes, can you tell me what he said?
A: No, we never discussed his playing career. In fact, it wasn’t until my career was over that I discovered that he had replaced Babe Ruth. Strange – I knew the player who replaced Ruth and I was scouted by Babe Dahlgren who replaced Lou Gehrig (almost signed with him).
Q: Did Selkirk wear his World Series rings? He should have had five of them.
A: I don’t remember. Or more likely, I didn’t notice at the time.
Q: Was Selkirk a storyteller? Was he the type that you would go up to his office and he would have a lot of good baseball stories. If yes, can you remember any of his stories?
A: No, we didn’t have that kind of conversation.
Q: Did Selkirk ever talk about being born in Canada?
A: No, I wasn’t aware he was born in Canada until my playing days were over.
Q: Did Selkirk keep in touch with his famous ex-Yankee teammates?
A: Sorry. Once again, I don’t know.
Q: Did Selkirk ever mention a family? Can you recall anything about his family?
A: And again, he never mentioned his family. I imagine my wife (at the time) met his wife, and perhaps she got to know her. We’ve been divorced since 1973, though, so I can’t help you with this.