Baseball's All-Star Game was played Tuesday night at New York's Yankee Stadium, "The House that Ruth Built," but the last living teammate of the legendary Babe Ruth wasn't watching the game on television, not on your life.
"No, I haven't seen a ball game in four or five years," 100-year-old Bill Werber, the oldest living former major league baseball player, said in an interview. "I don't like the appearance of a lot of the players. The hair's too long. Their beards are too evident. They're a grubby-looking bunch of caterwaulers."
|Bill Werber smiles as he talks about his days in Major League Baseball at his retirement home in Charlotte, N.C., June 6, 2008.|
Werber played baseball in a bygone era when games were half as long and twice as fun. In his first game as a Yankee, on June 25, 1930, Werber walked and Ruth swatted one of his 714 home runs.
"I said to myself, 'Well, I'll show these Yankees how I can run,'" Werber said. "So I ran around second base at high speed – I knew it was a home run – and I ran around third base, and when Babe came in, he patted me on the head and he said, 'You don't need to run fast like that when The Babe hits one.'"
When Ruth wasn't playing baseball, he was playing .. bridge.
"When the train began to roll out of Chicago for St. Louis," Werber said, "Babe would holler, 'Cut the cards,' and we'd play cards on the Green Diamond Express until Babe would give Lou [Gehrig] false bids, and Gehrig was no dummy, he'd recognize what was going on, and he'd throw the cards in the middle of the table and say, 'Add it up, let us know what we owe ya,' and they'd owe us $3, $3.50, not much."
Werber liked Ruth a lot and Gehrig not so much.
"Ruth was convivial, friendly, and Gehrig was aloof and unfriendly," Werber said. "Ruth would stop at the gates and sign autographs for an hour. Gehrig would scatter kids everywhere and get in his car and drive off."
|Courtesy Werber family|
|Bill Werber's baseball card, circa 1938, when he was a player for the Philadelphia A's.|
Werber made one critical mistake in his own baseball career, "the most stupid thing I ever did in my life."
"I got teed off at myself one day and drop kicked the [water] bucket and fractured my big toe," he said. "I played for seven more years in pain. The stupid thing cost me dearly."
Despite this, Werber managed to carve out a .271 batting average over 11 seasons with five different ball clubs. He led the American League three times in stolen bases and hit .370 in the 1940 World Series.
Werber retired from baseball in 1942 and went into the insurance business, making more money, he said, than Ruth made hitting home runs. Werber lives today in a retirement community in North Carolina, still alert and outspoken and not about to kick the bucket.